What we know a year later


A year ago, the University of Tennessee announced an investigation into NCAA violations in its football program.

Coach Jeremy Pruitt and other football staff have been made redundant. Serious recruiting malfeasance has been alleged and self-reported by Tennessee. And all parties have taken strategic steps and settled into a long process.

There was no resolution, but rather a trickle of developments. Since the investigation was announced on January 18, 2021, here’s what we know.

UT investigation complete, but no word from NCAA

On November 4, Tennessee announced that it had completed its internal investigation. Athletic director Danny White, who was hired after the investigation began, said the university was the NCAA’s “partner” in the investigation.

This is where the process cooled off, at least publicly. Chancellor Donde Plowman confirmed to Knox News that Tennessee has not received a notice of allegations from the NCAA, and there is no timeline for that. Some NCAA investigations can take months while others are judged years later.

Fired coaches, staff members moved on

Pruitt, two assistant coaches and seven other staff involved in recruiting, player personnel or quality control were fired for cause a year ago. They landed at jobs elsewhere.

Most notably, Pruitt became a senior defensive analyst for the New York Giants in his first NFL role in a 25-year coaching career. Giants coach Joe Judge was fired last week, likely ending Pruitt’s tenure there. In October, his attorney said Pruitt intended to stay in the NFL.

Inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer is a high school social studies teacher and assistant football coach at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Outside Linebackers Coach Shelton Felton served the 2021 season as interim coach and then head coach at Valdosta, Georgia, one of the top high school programs in the nation. Felton replaced Rush Propst, who was fired in April when Valdosta was hit with Georgia High School Association sanctions for improper recruiting activities.

UT paid $1 million in legal fees

Tennessee paid $1.08 million in legal fees to the firm Bond, Schoeneck & King through November for its internal investigation, according to invoices the university provided to Knox News after a public records request. The December invoice is not yet available.

The legal team is led by attorneys Kyle Skillman and Michael Glazier, who is well known for his work on investigations involving college athletics.

The legal fees pale in comparison to the $12.6 million buyout Tennessee refused to pay Pruitt after firing him for cause. But it’s still a high price. Records show the highest monthly fee of $189,171 was charged for work in January 2020, when the NCAA began its investigation.

Pruitt threatened to sue, but did not follow through

In October, Pruitt’s attorney, Michael Lyons, threatened to sue college and hinted at revealing further rule violations if Tennessee does not settle with its client and pay a portion of the canceled buyout.

Lyons requested a settlement by Oct. 29 or the university would face a lawsuit that the attorney said could “cripple UT’s athletic program for years.” This deadline has come and gone. But there is no indication that Lyons has filed a lawsuit or that Pruitt has received a settlement.

UT Self-Reported Level I and Level II Offenses

Tennessee administrators said the university cooperated with the NCAA, initially reporting what Plowman called a “significant number of serious” and “disturbing” violations that “deserved immediate action.”

Plowman said they were Level I and Level II Offenses, the two most serious categories of the NCAA’s four-tier violation structure, which was introduced in 2013. But specific rule violations are unknown.

“What is so troubling … is the number of violations and the number of people involved and their efforts to conceal the activities from our compliance staff and athletic department leaders,” Plowman said on January 18, 2021.

Self-imposed sanctions have already begun

Tennessee did not impose a self-imposed bowl ban because it felt the penalties should focus on the area of ​​the violations — in this case, recruiting. the Flights Lost to Purdue 48-45 in overtime at the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 to cap coach Josh Heupel’s first season with a 7-6 record.

The allegations against Pruitt and his staff relate to recruiting mischief. Tennessee could choose to impose sanctions on itself such as scholarship cuts or recruiting limitations, and sources told Knox News the process began no later than September.

The football program did not welcome recruits for its season opener against Bowling Green on September 2. Other self-imposed recruitment restrictions could also have included limiting the number of official visits by recruits and coaches’ contact with prospects.

Self-imposed sanctions have the potential to soften the NCAA’s blow if the program is found to have violated the rules, but they offer no guarantee of protection from further sanctions.

NCAA policy changes could ease Tennessee penalties

An NCAA convention this week could impact the sanctions against Tennessee. The NCAA is expected to adopt a new constitution, which includes amended language to “ensure to the greatest extent possible that penalties imposed for violations do not punish programs or student-athletes innocent of the violation or violations.”

The goal is to reduce post-season bans as a punishment for violations, particularly when the coaches and players who committed the violations are no longer with the team. This could apply to the Tennessee situation if Pruitt and members of his staff are found liable.

Another potential policy change calls for the NCAA to ease penalties for schools that self-report and cooperate with investigations. The recommendation was made by LEAD1, an association representing FBS’s 130 athletic directors, asking the NCAA Division I board to change its approach to infractions.

If the NCAA passes legislation to reflect this change in approach, it could take a lot longer.

Tennessee is represented by both groups recommending the policy changes.

Deputy Director of Sport Cameron Walker, who shares the role of Senior Administrator for Football Vols, is one of 17 members of the task force that created the LEAD1 report. And Tennessee faculty athletics representative Donald Bruce is one of 28 members of the NCAA Constitution Committee and one of two employees of an SEC school.

Contact Adam Sparks at [email protected] and on Twitter @AdamSparks.


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