KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The University of Tennessee on Friday received a notice of allegations from the NCAA detailing recruiting football violations that led to then-head coach Jeremy Pruitt being fired for cause. The notice lists more than 200 separate violations consisting of cash or gifts totaling nearly $60,000 given to players and their families by Pruitt, his wife Casey and several others.
The 51-page document describes 18 Level I recruiting violations committed over a three-year period from 2018 to 2021. The alleged violations were committed by Pruitt and his wife Casey, defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley, inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer, outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton, three recruiting staff members and an unnamed student assistant.
Level I violations constitute the most severe breaches of conduct in the NCAA’s four-tiered infraction system. Despite the severity of the allegations, the NCAA did not charge the school with ‘lack of institutional control’,’ an accusation typically associated with the most severe punishments issued by the NCAA for rule violations.
Tennessee hired outside counsel to conduct an investigation into the program and shared their findings with the NCAA. All individuals named in the notice were fired in January 2021 or left the program after the investigation began in late 2020.
The NCAA notice credited the university with exceptional cooperation and transparency during the inquiry, calling their actions during the investigation, “the standard for any institutional inquiries into potential violations.”
Half of the 18 violations involve impermissible benefits provided to recruits and their families.
Coaches and recruiting staff arranged for hotel rooms, meals, entertainment, transportation and team apparel totaling over $12,000 for six recruits making unofficial visits during a recruiting dead period from July-November 2020.
From October 2018 to December 2020, Pruitt, recruiting staff and an unnamed booster provided over $12,000 of impermissible recruiting violations including cash payments, hotel lodging, meals, transportation including airfare, furniture, household goods and party decorations to then prospective student-athletes.
Pruitt is alleged to have given cash payments of $3,000 and $6,000 to the mothers of two potential recruits, the former to assist in medical bills and the latter for a down payment on a car.
Casey Pruitt, who previously worked in the NCAA compliance office at Florida State, is alleged to have made 25 payments of $500 to a recruit’s mother to assist in monthly car payments, totaling $12,500. She also allegedly made cash payments totaling $3,200 for a player’s apartment security deposit and initial rent payment.
Six of the violations consist of unethical or dishonest conduct by Pruitt, Felton, Niedermeyer, the three recruiting staff members and the unnamed student recruiting assistant. The violations state they showed reckless indifference to NCAA rules and knowingly provided false or misleading information to the institution and enforcement staff regarding knowledge of violations.
The final two violations charge Pruitt and the university with failing to promote compliance with NCAA regulations and failing to adequately monitor football program arrangements of unofficial visits.
University leadership responds
Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman released a lengthy statement following the notice.
“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.”Tennessee Director of Athletics Danny White
It’s unclear at this point what potential punishments Tennessee could receive. The NCAA Division I Board of Directors recently endorsed reforms to the infractions process that would transition away from program-wide penalties like postseason bowl bans or scholarship reductions and incentivizes reporting and self-accountability by university leadership.
Tennessee has 90 days to respond to the allegations.