KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee received a notice of allegations from the NCAA about its football program led by former head coach Jeremy Pruitt on Friday, according to a release from UT.
Pruitt and nine others were fired in January 2021 after an investigation into recruiting violations. Pruitt was fired from his position as head coach for failing to promptly report recruiting violations committed by nine employees under his leadership.
On Friday, the NCAA issued its notice of allegations to UT Chancellor Donde Plowman. The organization looked into 18 allegations that the football program had spent nearly $60,000 in "impermissible recruiting inducements and extra benefits," which could be considered bribes, to court both prospective and current student-athletes.
The allegations said Pruitt, who later went to work for the New York Giants, and football staff members "knowingly arranged for and/or provide impermissible unofficial visit activities, recruiting inducements and impermissible contacts," which included lodging, meals, airfare, cash payments and more.
The list of 18 allegations from 2018 to 2020 involved Pruitt, his wife, his assistant coaches, recruiting staff and others, records show. The NCAA said it considered these incidents to be severe breaches in conduct.
Some allegations included staff spending large amounts of money on hotel and food expenses for prospective athletes during unofficial visits, spending hundreds of dollars on nail salon treatments and trips to attractions around the area.
One allegation from January 2019 said Jeremy Pruitt paid someone approximately $3,000 in cash to "assist her in paying a past debt for medical bills." Another allegation from the same month said Pruitt and a staff member paid a prospective athlete $400 in cash at the conclusion of an official visit.
"It is alleged that between November 2018 through August 2020, Jeremy Pruitt (J. Pruitt), then head football coach, violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct when he knowingly arranged, offered and provided prospective and enrolled student-athletes and their family members or individuals associated with prospective student-athletes (IAWP) with improper inducements and extra benefits in the form of impermissible IAWP entertainment and cash payments to numerous individuals," the report said.
You can read the full report at this link.
John Brice, a sports contributor to WBIR, said Pruitt and his former staff will receive fines and the harshest penalties from the NCAA. He said he believes UT will likely not receive any harsh penalties because the university cooperated from the start and initiated its own investigation into the matter.
In a statement on Friday, Plowman said, in part, the university "took quick and decisive actions that exemplified the longstanding values of the NCAA reiterated in the membership’s new constitution."
She said the university hired outside counsel to investigate the allegations, acted promptly in firing Pruitt and the nine other assistant coaches and staffers and shared the conclusions with the NCAA's enforcement staff.
The university spent at least $852,000 on the investigation.
In the statement, Plowman said "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.'"
She said the university will take "appropriate responsibility," but it "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 NCAA bylaws prohibit the university from publicly commenting about the specific allegations, but the university "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," according to Plowman's statement.
"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,” Plowman said in the statement.
In a statement, Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics Danny White said the notice of allegations was expected and moves the university closer to a final resolution.
“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.”