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The Tennessee baseball team is currently in limbo regarding one of its star transfer portal players, Maui Ahuna. It seems the NCAA, and others, have a problem with how the Kansas transfer shortstop ended up in Knoxville.
According to multiple sources in college baseball, the Vols and head coach Tony Vitello are dealing with an NCAA inquiry into tampering involving the recruitment of Ahuna. Some sources in the college baseball community have classified this as ‘impermissible contact’. The inquiry began in July 2022, the month following Ahuna’s commitment to Tennessee, and was ongoing.
OutKick reached out to Tennessee’s athletics department, which did not have a comment on the matter.
This inquiry centered around Tennessee’s alleged tampering with the former Kansas star while he was still in Lawrence. Currently, Ahuna is not eligible to play for the Vols (ranked No. 3 in the nation by D1Baseball), who open up a three-game series against Dayton this afternoon in Knoxville.
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.
Whether you want to call that school an ‘informant’ is up to you. But in this day and age of college athletics, navigating how to handle the transfer portal has become a problem for the NCAA and schools.
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 around seven months ago.
Now, we wait to see what comes of this investigation into the Tennessee baseball program and Tony Vitello, with the head coach being suspended on Friday afternoon.
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.