Former Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt, his wife and several members of his football team provided approximately $60,000 in ineligible benefits and recruiting incentives to more than two dozen recruits and their families on a three-year period, according to an NCAA notice of allegation. , a copy of which was obtained by Sports Illustrated through a public records request.
The 51-page document sent to the school on Friday outlines 18 separate allegations of gross recruiting misconduct by Pruitt and his staff that occurred as early as September 2018, his 10th month on the job, and extending into the off-duty period. 2020 COVID-19 Recruiting Challenge. All allegations are Level I, considered the most egregious on the NCAA’s Violation Scale.
In the most serious of the allegations, Pruitt and his team hosted at least six prospects and their families on nine unofficial weekend visits during the one-year off period, providing them with housing, meals, transportation, household items and even furniture for a total of $12,000. Pruitt himself is accused of making cash payments of $3,000 and $6,000 to the mothers of two prospects, the first used to help with medical bills and the other for a down payment on a vehicle.
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A total of Pruitt and seven staff members are accused of committing violations, all of whom were fired in January 2021 after an internal academic 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 recruiting Chantryce Boone and a student assistant whose name is redacted from the report. .
The ninth person charged with violations, Pruitt’s wife Casey, allegedly made cash payments of at minus $13,000 to recruits and their families. Casey previously worked in NCAA rules compliance at the University of Troy, his alma mater, and in Florida State.
No less than 12 UT athletes who received improper benefits have appeared in more than 60 games, the document states. These athletes performed while “ineligible,” according to the NCAA. The number of players and games is unclear due to redactions.
Despite the 18 Level I violations — one of the highest totals in recent years given that LSU received eight Level 1s in March — the university was unaffected by the “lack of institutional control,” largely due to its transparency and integrity in dealing with wrongdoing quickly. , say the NCAA documents. The institution showed close cooperation with NCAA investigators, conducted its own thorough internal investigation, and took immediate action to terminate staff members and discipline itself. The university awarded itself 12 football scholarships last season, in addition to imposing several other recruiting penalties, sources told SI.
“Receiving our Notice of Allegations was an expected and required step in this process — a process that our university has proactively initiated through decisive and transparent action,” Tennessee athletic director Danny said Friday. White, in a statement. “This brings us closer to a final resolution. Until we get to that point, I am unable to discuss the matter in detail. As a university, we understand the need to take responsibility for this happened, but we remain committed to protecting our current and future student-athletes.
UT’s internal survey included more than 100 interviews. Former NCAA investigator Michael Glazier and law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King assisted in the investigation.
The NCAA’s 18-month survey comes to an end at an interesting time in the college sports industry. As the NCAA transforms in several ways, including an overhaul of the infractions process, athletes are being compensated through name, likeness and likeness agreements that in many ways provide benefits similar to those listed in the Notice of Allegations. Tennessee has one of the largest and most ambitious encore collectives in the nation, although the school is not affiliated with it.
Tennessee’s investigation, cooperation and response, led White and his new staff, should be “the standard” in such investigations, according to NCAA documents. White took over from retired Phillip Fulmer in January 2021, days after Pruitt and staff were fired. One of his first moves was to hire Josh Heupel from Central Florida. Heupel won seven games in his first year and signed the 18th best class in the country. The 2023 class of Thefts is currently ranked seventh.
Tennessee has 90 days to respond to the allegations and is not expected to contest the charges. Given UT’s own response, as well as the NCAA’s revised infraction process, the university is in a strong position to potentially escape the harshest penalties.
The NCAA is in the final stages of adopting an overhauled infraction policy with a penalty structure that focuses less on postseason bans. The intention is to avoid penalties that would affect players who weren’t in school when the violations occurred, with penalties being more focused on those specifically at fault, such as coaches.
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Under the NCAA’s new sanction structure, Pruitt risks being sanctioned into other jobs if he receives another one in college sports. The NCAA holds him primarily responsible for the alleged violations, stating that he failed to demonstrate and promote an atmosphere of compliance and failed to properly monitor his personnel.
Nine of the 18 allegations involve Tennessee coaches or staff providing extra perks to recruits and their families, largely during unofficial campus visits. Seven of the allegations separately accuse each staff member of violating NCAA “ethical conduct,” three of which (Gunn, Niedermeyer and Felton) gave false or misleading information to university and NCAA investigators, according to documents.
The final two allegations accuse Pruitt of failing to fulfill his responsible head coaching duties and the university of failing to monitor its football program. Neither Fulmer, nor any other sports administrator at the time of the alleged wrongdoing, was named in the report. Fulmer hired Pruitt.
Pruitt and his wife were on the ground, paying recruits and their families more than $25,000 in cash combined, it is alleged. Casey Pruitt also arranged for representatives to show a recruit’s mother around rental homes in the Knoxville area and provided a prospect with $1,600 for a security deposit and first month’s rent. She also paid $12,000 in rent to a prospect or his family. Staff members, including Jeremy Pruitt, paid seven current football players $1,300 to host prospects during the off-season.
During the COVID-19 recruiting dead period, NCAA Vice President for Enforcement Jon Duncan warned schools that recruiting during this time would be aggressively investigated. He followed up with a statement nine months later that said in part, “law enforcement understands the importance of these behaviors, and we are actively addressing them to ensure fairness for schools that follow the rules.”
For Pruitt and his staff, the added perks went far beyond cash: they paid for hotel rooms, including some at the Crown Plaza in Knoxville, plane tickets, dozens of meals and more. In one allegation, coaches delivered $500 worth of varsity clothing to prospects while undercover in a parking lot. In another, staff paid $225 in nail salon treatments for families. During an unofficial visit, Coaches took prospects and family members on a fishing trip that included a meal at Knoxville’s famed Calhoun Restaurant and Coaches spending $175 on a family meal from a prospect at Dead End BBQ.
At least twice, staff spent $225 at McDonald’s for prospects and their families, though the fast food bags only included food and not cash, as the TV and radio host erroneously reported Dan Patrick. Staff members also purchased Chick-fil-A breakfasts for recruits.
During his three years at Knoxville, Pruitt was hailed as an elite recruiter, having worked under the best – Nick Saban in Alabama and Kirby Smart in Georgia. His two complete signing classes in 2019 and 2020 ranked 13th and 11th nationally. However, the Volunteers only went 16–19 in his three seasons, winning just three games his senior year. The school fired him for cause, refusing to pay his $12.6 million buyout. Pruitt’s lawyer, Michael Lyons, threatened legal action if the school did not reach an agreement with his client. So far, no complaints are known to have been filed.
Pruitt is now believed to be no longer a coach after a year-long stint on the New York Giants coaching staff. Pruitt and other staff members were fired when the Giants fired head coach Joe Judge last January.
None of the other personnel listed in the NCAA document are believed to be in the college ranks. Ansley, who spent two stints under Saban in Alabama, is now the defensive backs coach for 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 Niedermeyer is the defensive coordinator at IMG Academy in Florida. Gunn and Boone’s employment status is unclear.
The allegations come 11 years after an NCAA investigation found violations by basketball coach Bruce Pearl serious enough that the school fired him. He received a three-year justification sentence. In the same investigation, then-coach Lane Kiffin and staff committed 12 secondary offenses in 10 months. The school self-imposed probation and recruiting sanctions in basketball and football.
Pearl and Kiffin are both back at the SEC. Pearl is at Auburn and Kiffin is at Ole Miss.
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