18 violations, almost $60K in illegal benefits by Tennessee football under former coach Jeremy Pruitt

18 violations, almost $60K in illegal benefits by Tennessee football under former coach Jeremy Pruitt

The NCAA has charged Tennessee’s football program with 18 Level I alleged rules violations, the most severe under its rules, for impermissible recruiting benefits totaling about $60,000 that were paid to prospects under former coach Jeremy Pruitt.

Among other allegations, Pruitt is accused of providing about $9,000 to the mothers of two prospects. His wife, Casey, is accused of making 25 cash payments totaling about $12,500 to help a prospect’s mother make her car payment.

Tennessee, which fired Pruitt in January 2021 after its internal investigation into the allegations, is not charged with lack of institutional control because of its cooperation with NCAA investigators and its integrity in handling the misconduct, the NCAA said in a notice of allegations that was sent to the university on Friday.

“In every step of this process, we took quick and decisive actions that exemplified the longstanding values of the NCAA reiterated in the membership’s new constitution,” Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman said in a statement. “The university hired outside counsel to fully investigate allegations about the football program, acted promptly to terminate the employment of football coaches and staff members, and shared our conclusions with the NCAA enforcement staff.”

The NCAA charged Pruitt with failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance and failure to monitor his staff. Former defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley, now defensive backs coach with the Los Angeles Chargers; former outside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer, now the defensive coordinator at IMG Academy; and former inside linebackers coach Shelton Felton, now the head coach at Valdosta High School in Georgia, were also named in the alleged rules violations, along with a director of personnel, a director of recruiting and two other staff members.

“Pruitt did not demonstrate that he monitored his staff or promoted an atmosphere of compliance within the football program when at least a dozen of his staff members were involved in more than 200 individual violations of NCAA legislation over a two-year time period as detailed in Allegation Nos. 1 through 9,” the notice of allegations said. “As evidenced by the number of staff members involved and the nature of the violations, J. Pruitt failed to demonstrate that compliance was a shared responsibility or establish clear expectations that all coaches and staff members comply with NCAA rules and failed to establish a program that includes immediate reporting of actual and potential issues to the compliance staff.”

The NCAA accused Pruitt and his staff of hosting six recruits and their families during a yearlong dead period, in which programs weren’t allowed to have on-campus recruiting activity because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCAA said the Volunteers hosted the prospects on unofficial visits on nine weekends between July 2020 and November 2020, in which prospects were given free lodging, meals, transportation and other benefits that totaled $12,000.

Among the benefits allegedly provided to prospects were nail-salon treatments and a trip on the Tennessee River on a student-athlete’s boat.

“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,” Tennessee athletics director Danny White said in a statement. “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.”

Despite the large number of Level I violations, the NCAA enforcement staff chose not to charge the university with lack of institutional control and even commended the Volunteers for their cooperation during the investigation.

“The actions taken by the institution during the investigation should be the standard for any institutional inquiries into potential violations,” the notice of allegations said. “Throughout the investigation the institution exhibited exemplary cooperation in multiple ways. Once the institution’s chancellor was alerted to allegations of potential violations within the football program, the institution took swift action to investigate the allegations and substantiated various violations.

Pruitt was 16-19 overall at Tennessee and 10-16 against SEC opponents. The Vols were 2-11 against AP-ranked opponents under Pruitt, who was in his first stint as a head coach. Pruitt worked as a senior defensive analyst for the New York Giants in 2021.

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