The NCAA has charged Tennessee’s football program with 18 alleged Level 1 rule violations, the most severe according to its rules, for disallowed recruiting benefits totaling about $60,000 that were paid to prospects, players and their families under former coach Jeremy Pruitt.
Among other allegations, Pruitt is accused of providing about $9,000 to the prospective mothers of two. His wife, Casey, is accused of making 25 cash payments totaling about $12,500 to help a potential mother make her car payments.
The NCAA said in a Notice of Allegations sent to Tennessee, which fired Pruitt in January 2021 after its internal investigation into the allegations, that it is not accused of lack of institutional oversight because of its cooperation with NCAA investigators and its impartiality in dealing with misconduct. to the university on Friday. Avoiding a lack of institutional oversight fees is a positive sign for Tennessee that it may avoid the most serious penalties imposed by the NCAA.
Sources told ESPN that the state of Tennessee has already established itself with 12 scholarship cuts last year as well as other recruiting restrictions. The school also made the decision not to impose a ban on itself last year because it did not want to penalize current coaches, staff or players in the program who had nothing to do with the allegations.
“At every step of this process, we have taken swift and decisive action that embodies the enduring values of NCAA that are reaffirmed in the new membership constitution,” Tennessee counselor Dund Plowman said in a statement. “The university hired an outside counsel to fully investigate the allegations regarding the football program, acted promptly to terminate the employment of football coaches and staff, and shared our findings with the NCAA application staff.”
The university retained former NCAA investigator Michael Glazier and the law firm Bond, Schuyneck & King to assist in the university’s internal investigation and paid $1.1 million to the company, which interviewed from November 2020 through February 2022. The university dismissed him for some reason and said it had no plans to advance this acquisition.
Pruitt released a response to ESPN about the allegations later Friday, saying: “Lots of this information in the NCAA report, I’m seeing for the first time and still reading. I’d prefer not to comment too much afterward, other than to say I look forward to telling my side of the story in place. What’s on the way.”
The NCAA also accused Tennessee of failing “adequate oversight to arrange its football program for informal visits and to ensure compliance with NCAA enlistment legislation.”
As many as 12 Tennessee athletes with disallowed benefits competed in more than 60 games, and those athletes, according to the NCAA, were “disqualified,” the NCAA said in its report.
The NCAA has accused Pruitt of failing to foster an atmosphere of compliance and failing to monitor its employees. Pruitt is also accused of violating the NCAA Principles of Ethical Conduct when he “arranged, offered and provided prospective and enrolled student-athletes and members of their families or individuals associated with prospective athletes with improper temptations and fringe benefits in the form of impermissible entertainment and monetary payments to numerous individuals.”
Pruitt has not demonstrated that he was monitoring his employees or promoting an atmosphere of compliance within the football program when at least a dozen of his employees were involved in more than 200 individual violations of NCAA legislation over a two-year period as detailed in Claims 1 through 9. . “As evidenced by the number of employees involved and the nature of the violations, J. Pruitt failed to demonstrate that compliance is a shared responsibility or set clear expectations that all coaches and employees comply with NCAA rules and failed to establish a program that includes prompt reporting of actual and potential issues to compliance personnel.”
The NCAA has charged Pruitt and his staff with hosting six recruits and their families during a year-long death row, as programs were not allowed to have on-campus recruiting activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCAA said volunteers hosted prospects for informal visits on nine weekends between July 2020 and November 2020, whereby potential clients were given housing, meals, transportation and other benefits totaling $12,000.
Among the benefits allegedly offered to prospects were nail salon treatments and a trip on the Tennessee River on a student-athlete boat.
The NCAA said coach Casey Pruitt, wife of the coach, and/or (former assistant) Brian Niedermayer also offered $3,200 to someone to pay a security deposit and pay an initial rent to move to Knoxville, Tennessee. The person’s name was deleted in a notice of allegations the university sent to ESPN. Casey Pruitt previously worked in compliance departments in Troy, Oklahoma and Florida, where she and Jeremy Pruitt met when Pruitt was defense coordinator for Seminoles in 2013.
Sources told ESPN that the NCAA, in line with new recommendations from the First Division Board Transformation Committee, used one of these measures in the Tennessee investigation, in particular motivating the parties to “secure cooperation from representatives, family members, and others with relevant information.” In the past, some family members and players have been granted immunity in exchange for their cooperation with the NCAA.
“Receiving the notice of the allegations was an expected and necessary step in this process — a process that our university has proactively initiated through decisive and transparent actions,” Tennessee Athletics Director Danny White said in a statement. “This brings us one step closer to a final solution. Until we get to this point, I cannot discuss the issue in any detail. As a university, we understand the need to take responsibility for what happened, but we remain committed to protecting our current and future student-athletes.”
White was appointed athletic director on January 21, 2021, just three days after the university announced that Philip Vollmer would be stepping down as Al. White hired Josh Hubbell, who is entering his second season as coach for the Vols.
Despite the large number of Level I violations, NCAA application staff chose not to accuse the university of a lack of institutional oversight, but rather praised the volunteers for their cooperation during the investigation.
“The actions taken by the institution during the investigation should be the standard for any institutional investigations into potential abuses,” the notice of the allegations said. “Throughout the investigation period, the Foundation demonstrated exemplary cooperation in multiple ways. Once the Foundation’s counsel was alerted to allegations of potential violations within the football program, the Foundation took swift action to investigate the allegations and established the various violations.”
Tennessee and everyone named in the report, including Pruitt, have 90 days to respond to the allegations’ notice. NCAA law enforcement officers then have 60 days to respond. A source told ESPN that the case is not expected to be fully adjudicated until sometime in 2023.
Pruitt was 16-19 overall in Tennessee and 10-16 against SEC opponents. The Vols were 2-11 against AP-ranked opponents under Pruitt, who was in his first stint as head coach. Pruitt worked as a senior defensive analyst for the New York Giants in 2021.