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Tennessee baseball coach Tony Vitello has been suspended for this weekend’s series against Dayton, after the NCAA launched an investigation into tampering with star transfer Maui Ahuna. The punishment is self-imposed, according to UT.
OutKick was first to report news of the NCAA’s inquiry into Tennessee and Vitello. The NCAA and Tony Vitello have had multiple interviews regarding the matter of of this inquiry, which has been going on for upwards of seven months. The Tennessee baseball program and Vitello have complied with all questions regarding the situation with Maui Ahuna.
Tennessee is hoping to have Ahuna on the field soon, after the NCAA did not rule on the matter Friday. In regards to Vitello, he has answered all questions regarding the ongoing inquiry, according to sources. Maui Ahuna being declared ineligible before the season-opener last week has been a talking point around college baseball, considering how long this inquiry has ongoing.
The Kansas transfer could be ruled eligible by the NCAA at any time, but the wait continues for the young man.
On Friday afternoon, just before a 4:30 p.m. ET first pitch against Dayton, Tennessee athletics department released the following statement:
According to multiple sources in college baseball, the Vols and Vitello have been dealing with the NCAA inquiry for its recruitment of Ahuna since July 2022, one month after Ahuna, a former Kansas Jayhawk, committed to transferring to Tennessee.
This inquiry centered around Tennessee’s alleged tampering with the former Kansas shortstop while he was still in Lawrence. Currently, Ahuna is still not eligible to play for the Vols, who are ranked No. 3 in the nation by D1Baseball.
The decision to suspend Vitello was a collaborative effort between Tennessee and Vitello. The NCAA inquiry is ongoing and the school decided it was best to self impose the penalty now.
According to multiple coaches who talked with OutKick, the overwhelming sentiment is that tampering is occurring more frequently at Power-5 schools than in the past, thanks to new transfer rules. The NCAA allows a one-time transfer for student-athletes, with two separate portal periods in the summer and winter.
“If you aren’t having someone make that phone call, somebody else has most likely already called them twice,” says one Power-5 head coach. “It’s your loss, but the new transfer rules only made this easier to find players to fill key spots. I’m surprised a school would risk inviting the poorly-ran NCAA into their house by squealing on someone else.”
That coach is assuming an opposing school asked the NCAA to investigate Tennessee for its recruitment of Ahuna, which is a logical conclusion to draw.
Tennessee, by now, is used to having to wait on the NCAA to clear transfers in other sports. Football players Aubrey Solomon, Cade Mays and Bru McCoy all had to fight eligibility battles in recent years. And in basketball, 7-footer Uros Plavsic missed the first 15 games of the 2019-20 season while waiting for the NCAA to rule him eligible.
The NCAA has been embroiled in legal controversy for years as its status and power as college sports governing body continues to wane. Just last week, the NCAA found itself in court in a federal class action case, Johnson v. NCAA, in which a group of athletes are arguing they should be considered university employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act and are therefore entitled to be paid for their labor.
Tampering Is Rampant In This Era Of NCAA Athletics
The fact is, we still have programs calling the NCAA on rival opponents to complain about things we still have no concrete definition. What exactly is tampering in this day and age of college athletics?
Tampering could be a player reaching out to a friend who plays at a rival school, gauging their interest in potentially changing uniforms. For college coaches, the transfer portal has turned into the Wild West, as players also use the tool for leverage on their current school. It’s become the norm, and some coaches have yet to adapt.
The portal also has been a saving grace for some, especially players looking for a spot in the starting lineup or wanting to be closer to home.
In some cases, it benefits a student athlete who experiences turnover at their current school. This was the case for Kansas transfer Maui Ahuna, who decided to find another home after long-time Jayhawks coach Ritch Price announced his retirement after the 2022 season. After informing Kansas and the NCAA, Ahuna entered the transfer portal. This move most likely wouldn’t have happened if Price was still coaching at Kansas, due to his family’s relationship with the head coach.
Maui entering the transfer portal led to multiple Power-5 schools reaching out to gauge his interest. Tennessee was one.
The NCAA did not approve of how Tennessee approached the situation and opened an inquiry.
Now, we wait to see what comes of this investigation into the Tennessee baseball program and Tony Vitello. Meanwhile, the person impacted the most is Maui Ahuna, who’s currently not able to play baseball.
This could change at any moment, whenever the NCAA is ready to stop punishing the young man.
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Tennessee sports department cheating again