Tennessee tells NCAA’s Jeremy Pruitt that staff “fooled” observers

Tennessee is defending itself against the NCAA’s Level 1 charge of failing to monitor its football program, saying former coach Jeremy Pruitt and nine others fired “repeatedly deceived” the administrators and compliance personnel who oversee the program.

“The university respectfully says it is unrealistic to expect an institution to prevent, or promptly detect, the willful and covert misconduct that occurred in this instance,” Tennessee wrote in a 108-page response dated Monday and first obtained by Knox News on Thursday. . .

Tennessee launched an internal investigation after the tip on November 13, 2020, finding what the university’s administrator described as “serious violations of NCAA rules”. Pruitt and nine others were fired for cause in January 2021, nullifying Pruitt’s $12.6 million acquisition after going 16-19 in three seasons.

NCAA investigators opened a case in December 2020 and became more involved in the two weeks before Pruitt was fired.

The NCAA notified Tennessee in July of its most serious Level 1 violations for allegedly providing impermissible money, gifts and benefits worth nearly $60,000 to football recruits and their families under Pruitt. The notice of allegations stated that at least 10 of Pruitt’s employees were involved in more than 200 individual violations over a two-year period.

In its response, the university argued that it had “demonstrated its unprecedented commitment to integrity” by leading Chancellor Dundee Plowman in investigating and holding everyone accountable while protecting athletes from suffering the consequences.

She photographed the cell phones of college football employees, which led to information the NCAA noted in July that helped substantiate the alleged violations. Also included are security footage from the Knoxville hotel.

In addition to Pruitt, Tennessee fired two assistants and seven members of its recruiting and support staff. Pruitt, three of his assistants and three other employees could face penalties over the offer, making it difficult for them to get another college job after a hearing with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.

“Factual information in this case shows that experienced football coaches and non-coaching staff knowingly violated longstanding, universally understood NCAA rules and went to great lengths to conceal their misconduct,” Tennessee wrote in its response.

The university noted that recruitment visits were monitored using industry standards, including “the inclusion of an experienced compliance officer in the programme.”

Tennessee’s response also cited eight specific instances of precedent where universities were either self-imposed penalties or had aggravating circumstances, as well as the NCAA’s notes from April and May meetings about shifting its rules on name, image, likeness, and transfer gate.

The university has argued that the Tennessee infractions case will come before the Division I infractions committee at a time of significant shift in how college athletics and infractions are handled.

“Intercollegiate athletics looks significantly different today than it did when the university began this investigation over two years ago,” said the Tennessee response.

Tennessee ended its investigation last November and announced then that it would not impose a bowl ban to avoid penalizing current players and coaches.

New sporting director Danny White, who replaced Philip Follmer, hired Josh Hubbell in late January 2021.

The Volunteers (9-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) are currently ranked ninth and could clinch their first 10-win regular season record since 2001 with a victory Saturday night at Vanderbilt.

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