Tennessee Recruiting Violations Land Them In Hot Water
ESPN’s Chris Low reports that the Tennessee Volunteers football program is facing significant penalties due to recruiting violations under former head coach Jeremy Pruitt. As a consequence, the team is being compelled to vacate all 11 wins from both the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
In addition to the vacated wins, the program has been slapped with an $8 million fine and placed on a strict five-year probation period. Moreover, there will be a reduction of 28 scholarships as part of the sanctions imposed on the program.
The University of Tennessee is set to face further consequences for recruiting infractions that occurred during Jeremy Pruitt’s three-year tenure as the head coach of the football team. The NCAA’s report outlined 18 level 1 violations, which included “recruiting rules violations and direct payments to prospects, current student-athletes, and their families.”
The violations were deemed “egregious and expansive” by Kay Norton, who headed the NCAA panel overseeing the case, according to the Associated Press.
Jeremy Pruitt and His Scheme
Former coach Jeremy Pruitt received a six-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA, effectively hindering his chances of coaching at any school during that time. Any school interested in hiring him within that time frame would have to endure a full-season suspension. It’s worth noting that Pruitt did not receive any of his $12.6 million buyout.
During his tenure as head coach, it is alleged that he organized a scheme of impermissible paid visits for recruits to the campus. These visits were not considered official visits according to NCAA regulations. The scheme involved 29 prospects, their family members, 10 currently enrolled student-athletes, and three boosters, among others.
During these visits, which took place even during the COVID-19 recruiting period, members of Tennessee’s coaching and recruiting staff allegedly provided benefits such as payments for hotels, meals, entertainment, and other perks to the prospects. These actions have come under scrutiny by the NCAA as they violate recruiting rules and regulations.
In its statement, the NCAA revealed further allegations against Jeremy Pruitt and his wife, Casey.
They are accused of making direct payments to recruits, with one instance involving a payment of $6,000 to a prospect’s mother, supposedly intended as a down payment for a new car, which is considered a recruiting inducement and a violation of NCAA rules. The particular player who received the payment participated in 23 games for Tennessee, including a bowl game.
Despite this, Pruitt allegedly continued to offer financial assistance and cash to the player’s mother even after the violations came to light. Furthermore, ESPN revealed that during the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Tennessee had 16 players who were considered ineligible due to their involvement in these violations.
However, according to sources, some of the players who were deemed ineligible, including those who transferred to other schools, later regained their eligibility by cooperating with the NCAA’s investigation of Tennessee and being granted immunity.
The vacating of wins by the NCAA does not result in granting those games as wins to the opposing teams. Consequently, Tennessee’s record has been adjusted to 856-410-53, causing the Vols to drop out of the top 10 nationally in wins. Tennessee’s official record book is undergoing revisions, now showing a record of 0-5 for the 2019 season and a 0-7 record for the 2020 season.
Current Tennessee Team
Despite the serious violations reported by Tennessee, the NCAA acknowledged the university’s “exemplary cooperation” in addressing the issues, leading to the removal of a postseason ban from the list of potential penalties.
According to Norton, the committee believed that the punishment imposed was appropriate for the nature of the violations. In addition to Oruitt, three other former staff members, including former defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley, received show-cause orders in the NCAA’s announced penalties on Friday. Subjecting them to certain restrictions and requirements if they want to continue to work in college football during the specified period.
In place of Pruitt, Tennessee appointed Josh Heupel as head coach. Under his leadership, the Vols achieved a 7-6 finish in 2021 and an impressive 11-2 record in 2022. As for Pruitt, his coaching record is updated to 5-19 during his three-year tenure as head coach of the Vols.
According to sources from ESPN, during the hearings in Cincinnati, Jeremy Pruitt requested the committee on infractions not to penalize the current Tennessee players with a postseason ban, stating that they deserved the opportunity to compete for championships.
Tennessee officials had been committed to avoiding a postseason ban from the outset, primarily to prevent punishing players and coaches who were not involved in the program when the violations occurred. The decision to forgo a bowl ban aligns with a recent trend observed in NCAA cases, aiming to focus the penalties on those directly responsible for the violations rather than the current players and coaching staff.
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