Former Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt, his wife, and several members of his football staff provided nearly $60,000 in unacceptable recruiting benefits and incentives to more than two dozen recruits and their families over a three-year period, according to a notice of charges from the NCAA. , a copy of which was received sports illustrations through a request for public records.
The 51-page document, sent to the school on Friday, outlines 18 separate allegations of flagrant recruiting misconduct by Pruitt and his staff that occurred as early as September 2018, his 10th month on the job, and extended to the dead COVID-19 recruiting period in 2020. All charges are Level I, which is considered the most egregious on the NCAA Violations Scale.
In the most serious of the allegations, Pruitt and his staff hosted at least six potential clients and their families on nine informal weekend visits during a year-long dead period, providing them with lodging, food, transportation, household items, and even furniture, totaling $12 000 dollars. Pruitt himself is accused of paying $3,000 and $6,000 in cash to the mothers of two potential clients, the first used to pay medical bills and the other for a down payment on a car.
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Overall, Pruitt and seven staff members have been charged with misconduct and were all fired in January 2021 after the university’s internal investigation uncovered alleged wrongdoing. The list includes defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley, outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton, inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer, director of player personnel Drew Hughes, director of recruiting Bethany Gunn, assistant director of recruitment Chantrice Boone and assistant to a student whose name has been removed from the report. .
The ninth person accused of wrongdoing, Pruitt’s wife Casey, allegedly made cash payments of at least $13,000 to recruits and their families. Casey once worked on NCAA compliance at Troy University, her alma mater, and Florida State.
The document states that 12 UT athletes who received undue benefits participated in more than 60 games. According to the NCAA, these athletes played while being “inappropriate”. The number of players and games is not clear due to editions.
Despite 18 Level I violations—one of the highest numbers in recent years, given that LSU received eight Level 1 violations in March—the university has not suffered from a “lack of institutional control,” largely due to its transparency and integrity in prompt resolution. violations. , according to the NCAA documents. The institution demonstrated close cooperation with NCAA investigators, conducted its own thorough internal investigation, and took immediate steps to terminate employees and impose sanctions on itself. Sources tell the SI that the university awarded itself 12 football scholarships last season and also imposed several more hiring fines.
“Receiving our notice of the allegations was an expected and necessary step in this process — a process that our university has actively initiated through strong and transparent action,” Tennessee State Athletic Director Danny White said Friday. “This brings us one step closer to a final decision. Until we get to this point, I cannot discuss this matter in 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.”
UT’s internal investigation included over 100 interviews. Assisting in the investigation were former NCAA investigator Michael Glazer and the law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King.
The 18-month NCAA investigation has come to an end at an interesting time for the college sports industry. While the NCAA is being transformed in several ways, including revisiting the infringement process, athletes are being compensated through name, picture, and image deals that provide similar benefits in many ways to those listed in the allegations notice. Tennessee has one of the largest and most ambitious booster-led collectives in the country, although the school is not affiliated with it.
NCAA documents state that Tennessee’s investigation, cooperation, and response by White and his new staff should be the “standard” in such investigations. White succeeded the retiring Philip Fulmer in January 2021, days after Pruitt and his staff were fired. One of his first moves was to hire Josh Hupel from Central Florida. Heupel won seven games in his first year and signed with the 18th top class in the country. The Vols 2023 class is currently ranked seventh.
Tennessee has 90 days to respond to the allegations and they are not expected to contest the allegations. Given UT’s own response, as well as the revised NCAA violation review process, the university has every chance of avoiding the harshest sanctions.
The NCAA is in the final stages of revisiting its infraction policy with a penalty structure that focuses less on post-season suspensions. The goal is to avoid penalties that would affect players who were not in school when the infractions occurred, with sanctions more focused on those specifically at fault, such as coaches.
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Under the NCAA’s new fine structure, Pruitt risks the sanction that will follow him to another job if he ever gets another one in collegiate sports. The NCAA holds him primarily responsible for the alleged violations, saying he did not demonstrate or promote compliance and failed to properly supervise his staff.
Nine of the 18 allegations involve Tennessee coaches or employees providing additional benefits to recruits and their families, mostly during informal visits to campus. The seven charges separately accuse each employee of violating NCAA “ethical conduct”, three of whom (Gunn, Niedermeyer and Felton) provided false or misleading information to university and NCAA investigators, the documents say.
The last two allegations accuse Pruitt of not fulfilling his duties as a head coach and the university is not monitoring its football program. Neither Fulmer nor any other sports administrator at the time of the alleged offense was named in the report. Fulmer hired Pruitt.
According to allegations, Pruitt and his wife were directly involved, paying recruits and their families over $25,000 in cash. Casey Pruitt also arranged for representatives to give the recruit’s mother a tour of rented homes in the Knoxville area, and gave one of the prospects $1,600 in deposit and first month’s rent. She also paid $12,000 in rent to a potential client or family. Employees, including Jeremy Pruitt, paid seven current players $1,300 to take on leads during the dead period.
During the COVID-19 recruitment dead period, NCAA Vice President of Enforcement John Duncan warned schools that recruitment during that time would be thoroughly investigated. Nine months later, he issued a statement saying, in part: “Law enforcement understands the importance of this behavior and we are actively fighting it to ensure fairness for schools that play by the rules.”
For Pruitt and the staff, the perks went well beyond cash—they paid for hotel rooms, some of them at Crown Plaza in Knoxville, airfare, dozens of meals, and more. One allegation was that the coaches were delivering $500 worth of varsity clothes to potential clients while under the cover of a garage. In another case, staff paid $225 for a family nail salon. On one informal visit, the coaches took prospects and their families on a fishing trip that included a meal at famed Calhoun’s in Knoxville, and the coaches spent $175 on a meal for the prospect’s family at Dead End BBQ.
In at least two cases, staff spent $225 at McDonald’s on potential customers and their families, even though the fast food packages contained only food and no cash, TV and radio host Dan Patrick mistakenly reported. Employees also bought Chick-fil-A breakfasts for recruits.
During his three years in Knoxville, Pruitt was known as an elite recruiter, working under the best – Nick Saban in Alabama and Kirby Smart in Georgia. His two full signing classes in 2019 and 2020 ranked 13th and 11th in the nation. However, the Volunteers went only 16–19 over three seasons, winning just three games in their final year. The school fired him for good reason, refusing to pay the $12.6 million ransom. Pruitt’s lawyer, Michael Lyons, threatened legal action if the school did not reach an agreement with his client. So far, no lawsuit has been filed.
It is currently believed that Pruitt is no longer coaching after a year-long stint on the New York Giants coaching staff. Pruitt and other employees were fired when the Giants fired head coach Joe Judge in January of this year.
None of the other employees listed in the NCAA document are considered to be in the ranks of the college. Ansley, who spent two seasons under Saban in Alabama, is now a defensive coach with the Los Angeles Chargers. Hughes is the director of player personnel for the Jaguars. Felton is a coach at Valdosta High School in Georgia, and Niedermeier is a defensive coordinator at the IMG Academy in Florida. The employment status of Gunn and Boone is unclear.
The allegations come 11 years after an NCAA investigation uncovered enough wrongdoing by basketball coach Bruce Pearl that the school fired him. He was sentenced to three years of probation. The same investigation found that then-coach Lane Kiffin and staff committed 12 secondary infractions in 10 months. The school itself introduced probation and recruitment sanctions in basketball and football.
Pearl and Kiffin are back in the SEC. Pearl to Auburn and Kiffin to Ole Miss.
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