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It started in November of 2020, and now the NCAA investigation into Tennessee football has come to an end. The Committee of Infractions released its final findings on Friday, while also handing down penalties to the university and Jeremy Pruitt.
The school went in front of the NCAA’s committee in April to further discuss the investigation. Tennessee had a full contingent in Cincinnati to explain its case, with former head coach Jeremy Pruitt also in attendance.
NCAA Penalizes Tennessee For Careless Infractions
Today, after three years of back and forth, the NCAA has handed down these further punishments. There were more than 200 infractions that the staff committed during the Jeremy Pruitt era at Tennessee.
The NCAA has put Tennessee on probation for five years, but has avoided a postseason ban. Former head coach Jeremy Pruitt received a six-year show-cause penalty for his involvement in the infractions. He will also be suspended for the first season, if hired by a participating NCAA school.
Tennessee will also have to pay a fine of $8 million, while vacating all wins in any game in which 16 individual sanctioned players participated.
Additionally, the school has to cut 28 scholarships from its roster over a five year period. It should be noted that Tennessee had already self-imposed 16 scholarship reductions over the last two seasons. The football program was also hit with a few recruiting restrictions, which will see unofficial and official visits be cut over a five year period.
The football program will have to choose eight games over the next five years where they will not be able to host visitors, four of those are SEC games.
Fired Tennessee Recruiting Staff, Coaches Were Sloppy
Some of the key findings from Tennessee and the NCAA include a number of recruiting violations that were connected to visits to campus.
“Before a prospect’s visit, the former recruiting director worked with an assistant coach who was the prospect’s primary recruiter and arranged hotel rooms, which would then be paid for in cash before the prospect’s arrival,” the NCAA noted. “The recruiting staff also regularly called ahead to restaurants or entertainment venues and asked them to hold the bill from a prospect’s visit. After the prospect left, a football staff member would stop by to pay the bill in cash.
The $8 million fine is “equivalent to the financial impact the school would have faced if it missed the postseason during the 2023 and 2024 seasons”, according to the NCAA.
It should be noted, the lengths that certain staff members went to hide violations from the Tennessee compliance department played a key factor in penalties.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the recruiting staff concealed the impermissible visits from Tennessee’s compliance department by creating two itineraries,” NCAA noted. “One version would be submitted to compliance and only contained permissible activities. A second version would include the additional activities, meetings and other benefits.”
For the full NCAA report, you can click here.
After receiving its Notice of Allegations, the NCAA alleged that Jeremy Pruitt and his staff handed out $60,000 in inducements and impermissible benefits. In the findings, it was also alleged that Pruitt’s wife Casey was also involved. During the investigation into Jeremy Pruitt, it was discovered that members of the football and recruiting staff had setup a payment scheme with a local hotel. This was done for recruiting visits that weren’t allowed at the time.
Tennessee Tried To Act Swift In Its Own Punishment
Tennessee was informing the NCAA how it was punishing itself during a time of unknown. The thought process was smart. Self-impose numerous penalties in Heupel’s first and second year that could soften the blow heading into his third season. One would think this would be enough, but the NCAA apparently didn’t feel the same way.
Trying to get ahead of potential punishment from the NCAA in regards to the 18 level-one violations, Tennessee tried to act swiftly once the investigation began. Eliminate official visits, take coaches off the road, punish the program now, so that it would mitigate any further punishment. The list is long, but Josh Heupel and Danny White hoped that their self-punishment would suit the NCAA, after keeping them informed of their moves along the way.
It’s Finally Over For Tennessee, Josh Heupel Moves Forward
After years of investigating and self-imposing penalties for the program, it’s finally over. The infractions committee felt Tennessee did a good enough job with penalties already assessed, so it could’ve been worse if the Vols had done nothing.
Now, Josh Heupel and the Tennessee football program can move forward. The $8 million fine is steep, but the athletic department can pay that out pretty quickly. The Jeremy Pruitt era at Tennessee will be remembered for how sloppy the staff was when committing these violations, serving it up on a platter for the NCAA.
Tennessee’s administration got saved itself from a bigger headache by getting out in front of the investigation, by starting it immediately once they received word of wrongdoings. At the end of the day, this should be seen as a win for the school, while the penalized staff members will have to think about how idiotic some of their decisions were.
The parties have a right to appeal, but I would expect Tennessee takes the punishment and moves on.