NCAA releases allegations in Tennessee Football Jeremy Pruitt investigation
The University of Tennessee now knows what rules exactly the NCAA is accusing former head coach Jeremy Pruitt of violating.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - NCAA officials released the notice of allegations into its ongoing investigation into the University of Tennessee football program Friday. The investigation centers on recruiting violations fired football coach Jeremy Pruitt.
The NCAA listed 18 violations and around $60,000 worth of cash and gifts that Pruitt, his wife, staff and recruiters gave to recruits, players and their families.
The NCAA acknowledged that university officials had self-reported most of the violations and also gave the program credit for its cooperation in the investigation. NCAA officials also said that the problem did not stem from the program itself, a key decision that could spare the program from the most serious punishments.
The 18 violations are Level 1, which are the most serious of the NCAA’s four-level ranking system for violations. In the document, obtained by WVLT News, NCAA officials said that Pruitt and his staff gave players cash and gifts from 2018-21. NCAA officials said Pruitt, his wife Casey, assistant coaches Derrick Ansley, Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer and recruiting staff members Drew Hughes, Bethany Gunn and Chantryce Boone were at fault.
Of those people, none are still at the university. UT also fired Pruitt for cause, which could play a role in limiting the program’s punishments. That decision, along with the university’s role in the investigation as a whole, earned praise from the NCAA officials who said “the actions taken by the institution during the investigation should be the standard for any institutional inquiries into potential violations.”
According to the document, between July and November of 2020, six recruits visited the university unofficially and accepted cash or gifts. Additionally, the visits happened outside of recruiting periods during the pandemic. Those players allegedly got $12,173 in hotel rooms, meals, entertainment, transportation and Tennessee apparel.
Those six players did not end up at UT.
Pruitt, along with Gunn, Boone and a booster allegedly gave a player $12,707 in hotel rooms, meals, travel, game day parking and other expenses between October 2018 through December 2020. Included in that is an alleged cash gift from Pruitt to one of the player’s mothers, who needed the money for a medical bill.
Those gifts began in the recruiting phase and continued after the player joined the team, the document said.
The document alleges that between September 2018 and March 2021, the coaching and recruiting staff arranged or provided $23,260 to a recruit to cover hotel rooms, meals, entertainment, clothes, cash payments and game day parking.
Reportedly, Gunn and Hughes gave another $1,983 to a recruit and his family from November 2018 through December 2019. That money covered hotel stays, game day parking and team clothing. That player did join the Vols.
Officials accused Gunn and Neidermeyer of giving a recruit $2,463 in cash gifts, hotel rooms, meals, entertainment, transportation and clothes between January through December 2019. Additionally, Neidermeyer also met off-campus with the recruit twice, NCAA officials said.
According to the document, Gunn provided $955 in visit expenses for a prospective recruit. As a result, the recruit joined the team and received expenses when he was not eligible.
Bethany Gunn, then director of recruiting, along with a recruiting staff member, are accused of spending at least $800 on hotel lodging and meals to recruit prospective football student-athletes. The NCAA report alleges the money was spent over the course of five occasions.
Between January 2019 and November 2020, the NCAA investigation alleges coaches and recruiting staff arranged and/or spent thousands of dollars trying to recruit athletes during a COVID-19 dead period.
The NCAA alleges Derrick Ansley, then assistant football coach, Boone, then assistant director of recruiting; Shelton Felton, then assistant football coach, Bethany Gunn, then director of recruiting, Drew Hughes, then director of player personnel, Jeremy Pruitt, then head football coach, and two football staff members knowingly arranged for and/or provided about $3,919 in hotel lodging, meals, entertainment, transportation, cash payments.
Thirteen prospective student athletes and or their family members received UT branded clothing and merchandise, according to the report. Additionally, Gunn and members of the football staff are accused of arranging for impermissible recruiting contact during the COVID-19 dead period for one prospect.
“As a result of the impermissible inducements, six student-athletes competed in 63 contests and received actual and necessary expenses while ineligible,” the document reads.
It’s also alleged that a prospective student and high school coach were given impermissible access to UT’s football stadium.
Officials said that between April 2020 and November 2020, members of the program paid $1,338 in cash to at least seven candidates to cover general living expenses. Additionally, they also hosted recruits during the dead period.
“As a result of the impermissible benefits, four student-athletes competed in a total of 31 contests and received actual and necessary expenses while ineligible,” the document said.
During December of 2020, Gunn allegedly purposely supplied UTK incorrect or misleading information about the participation of a possible NCAA violation. Specifically, before Dec. 19, 2020, Gunn told someone to tell UTK officials that someone reimbursed Gunn for acquiring hotel rooms for recruits while they came to the school for football contests, despite no evidence of reimbursement. During an interview on Jan. 7, 2021, Gunn allegedly said she only used her money to pay for the incentives given to potential or enrolled student-athletes as described in Allegation No. 1. However, the investigation discovered this was not the case.
Allegation No. 11 alleged that former head coach Jeremy Pruitt arranged, offered and provided prospective and enrolled student-athletes and their families with entertainment-based gifts and cash payments while a part of the Tennessee program to persuade them to stay. This all occurred between November 2018 through August 2020.
Brian Niedermeyer, then assistant football coach, was accused of giving cash and paying for hotel rooms, meals, transportation, and entertainment for prospective and enrolled student athletes, their family members and friends between January 2019 and November 2020.
The NCAA alleges that during a Jan. 13, 2021 interview, Niedermeyer “knowingly provided false or misleading information to the institution and enforcement staff regarding his knowledge of or involvement in NCAA violations.”
Drew Hughes, then director of player personnel, was accused of giving cash to at least six prospective student athletes and providing hotel lodging, transportation, and UT branded clothing to prospective student athletes.
Allegation 14 alleged that between December of 2019 and November 2020, Boone, then assistant director of recruiting, violated the NCAA principal of ethical conduct when she knowingly arranged for and provided prospective and enrolled student-athletes and their families with gifts in the form of entertainment or cash payment during that time.
This including paying for hotel cost, meals, transportation and entertainment for unofficial visits to the University of Tennessee.
The allegation also mentioned that Boone also paid for other luxuries for athletes, including UT-Knoxville brand clothing, transportation, furniture, house hold goods and party supplies.
A former football recruiting assistant, whose name was redacted from the NCAA report, was accused of arranging for and providing prospective and enrolled student athletes, their family members and associates, with hotel lodging, meals, transportation, entertainment, host money and UT branded clothing during the COVID-19 recruiting dead period between July 2020 and November 2020.
From August through November 2020, Felton allegedly arranged, offered and gave prospective and enrolled student-athletes and their family members or the person with the prospective student with inappropriate invectives and extra gifts during prohibited visits, including paying for hotels, meals, transportation, entertainment and UTK merchandise. The document also alleged Felton donated student host money. Additionally, Felton denied knowing about his involvement in providing this funding during an interview on Jan. 13, 2021.
Former head football coach Jeremy Pruitt was accused of being personally involved in providing impermissible inducements and benefits to prospective and enrolled student athletes. The NCAA alleges Pruitt did not promote an atmosphere of compliance when, “at least a dozen of his staff members were involved in more than 200 individual violations of NCAA legislation over a two year time period.”
The report also alleged that Pruitt did not establish clear expectations of NCAA compliance with coaches and staff. It also claims that he failed to create a process to report or verify compliance issues or the potential for compliance issues.
The NCAA alleged the University of Tennessee failed to monitor and ensure the football program’s compliance. “Specifically, the institution’s monitoring processes failed to deter or detect more than 200 separate violations, involving more than a dozen football staff members, related to impermissible unofficial visit expenses, including hotel lodging; meals; entertainment; transportation; University of Tennessee, Knoxville-branded clothing and merchandise; cash payments; and impermissible hosts.”
The University’s Response
Several members of the University of Tennessee released statements following the allegation document’s release, including Chancellor Donde Plowman and Director of Athletics Danny White.
Plowman began her statement by reinforcing the fact that the University had tried to address the program’s violations the best way possible.
“In every step of this process, we took quick and decisive actions that exemplified the longstanding values of the NCAA reiterated in the membership’s new constitution,” she said.
Additionally, Plowman said that program officials had hired outside help to assist in the investigation. “The university hired outside counsel to fully investigate allegations about the football program, acted promptly to terminate the employment of football coaches and staff members, and shared our conclusions with the NCAA enforcement staff,” Plowman said.
Plowman also mentioned how the NCAA officials reacted to the university’s response to the infractions, saying “the NCAA enforcement staff recognized the university’s ‘exemplary cooperation’ in the case and stated that ‘[t]he actions taken by the institution during the investigation should be the standard for any institutional inquiries into potential violations.’”
On the subject of punishments, Plowman also said that the university will not punish active players based off of the actions of previous staff. That would include all the staff members involved in the infractions listed in the document.
“While we will take appropriate responsibility, last fall, the university announced that we will not self-impose penalties that harm innocent student-athletes like postseason bans based upon the actions of coaches and staff who are no longer part of the institution,” the Chancellor said.
White’s response was shorter than Plowman’s. White said that he is unable to discuss the case in any detail, the program would take responsibility while at the same time protecting current players.
You can read their full statements below:
“Earlier today, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville received a notice of allegations from the NCAA regarding the football program led by former head coach Jeremy Pruitt.
In every step of this process, we took quick and decisive actions that exemplified the longstanding values of the NCAA reiterated in the membership’s new constitution. The university hired outside counsel to fully investigate allegations about the football program, acted promptly to terminate the employment of football coaches and staff members, and shared our conclusions with the NCAA enforcement staff.
The NCAA Division I Board of Directors recently endorsed significant reforms to the infractions process proposed by the Transformation Committee, including clearly and meaningfully incentivizing the type of responsive institutional actions we took in this case – self-detection and reporting, self-accountability, and the active involvement of the institution’s chief executive. The NCAA enforcement staff recognized the university’s “exemplary cooperation” in the case and stated that “[t]he actions taken by the institution during the investigation should be the standard for any institutional inquiries into potential violations.”
While we will take appropriate responsibility, last fall, the university announced that we will not self-impose penalties that harm innocent student-athletes like postseason bans based upon the actions of coaches and staff who are no longer part of the institution. Under the NCAA’s new constitution, rules “must ensure to the greatest extent possible that penalties imposed for infractions do not punish programs or student-athletes not involved or implicated in the infraction(s).”
While NCAA bylaws prohibit the university from publicly commenting about the specific allegations, we have and will continue to seek a timely resolution of this case that is consistent with the NCAA’s new constitution and in the best interests of the University of Tennessee.
In the meantime, we will continue to support our football program’s new leadership, our exceptional student-athletes and the culture of winning and accountability they are building.”
“Receipt of our Notice of Allegations was an expected, requisite step in this process—a process our university initiated proactively through decisive and transparent actions. This moves us one step closer to a final resolution. Until we get to that point, I am unable to discuss the case in any detail. As a university, we understand the need to take responsibility for what occurred, but we remain committed to protecting our current and future student-athletes.”
As it stands, the university had 90 days to respond to the allegations. After that, the NCAA has 60 days to reply to that response.
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