Tennessee, Former Coach Jeremy Pruitt, NCAA Set To Battle Over Infraction Penalties: How Did We Get Here?

Videos by OutKick

Tennessee has a fight on its hands starting Wednesday with the NCAA in Cincinnati. Head football coach Jeremy Pruitt is hoping to reduce his own penalty. After two years of investigating Tennessee for its 18 Level-1 violations for paying players, we’re on the cusp of finally getting a resolution.

It’s certainly a bit absurd that we’ve gotten to this point in the ongoing investigation, but it shouldn’t be unexpected with the NCAA’s track record. Now, Pruitt, former DC Derrick Ansley and Tennessee will go in-front of the committee on infractions to plead their case. We will see if Ansley actually shows up, since he is out of college coaching and currently the DC for the Los Angeles Chargers.

All sides are hoping for a resolution on their own punishments, with final word not to be expected for upwards of two months after this week’s hearing.

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 the moves along the way.

As for Jeremy Pruitt, the former Tennessee coach gets the chance to explain his actions, while arguing against some of the penalties currently being weighed against him. This moment cannot be understated for Pruitt, as he faces a multi-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA.

Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee, NCAA In A Room All Together

In what might be the most intense interaction in recent college athletics history, all three parties will be together in Cincinnati. Pruitt, who is fighting to have his punishment reduced from the preliminary idea, will sit across from Tennessee lawyers who have been digging up dirt on him for years. All the while, Pruitt will be looking to implicate Tennessee and show the NCAA that the school was also not squeaky clean during his time in Knoxville.

Since launching the investigation, Tennessee has made it clear its relationship with the NCAA was on solid footing. They are working together to solve the problems in a timely manner. What this hearing proves is that the enforcement staff might’ve been on the Vols side, but the committee on infractions doesn’t see it the same way. And they will be the ones dishing out the punishment.

Former Tennessee AD Phillip Fulmer and former head coach Jeremy Pruitt

The Vols Hoped To Avoid This Meeting

For the last two years, Tennessee has done everything it can to prevent a hearing. But not being able to come to a resolution should speak volumes about how the committee on infractions feels. The hope was that they would agree with the self-imposed punishment. But you can throw that ‘working relationship’ out the window now.

The plea deal is off the table. Tennessee now will have to present its case to a committee that had nothing to do with the investigation over the past two years. The Vols aren’t going in-front of this committee to argue over small penalties. There’s a reason why this is headed for what will feel like a court room.

As for Jeremy Pruitt, he’ll try to argue against a number of the claims. He is hoping some of the blame will also be put on Tennessee, to possibly decrease the force of the hammer about to dropped on him.

This case has been acted upon pretty quickly compared to some of the cases in college basketball. There was always going to be arguments over the punishment that Tennessee levied against itself. Sitting before the committee of infractions was one room the Vols legal counsel were trying to stay out of. But this is what happens when everyone has a story to tell, and the NCAA is not aligned with your thinking.

So, prepare for mud to fly during the upcoming hearing. One day it will be made public, not hidden behind excuses and denied FOIA requests. If Tennessee fans thought the John Currie data dump was extensive, wait till they see what comes out of the Jeremy Pruitt case.

Tennessee, NCAA Don’t Agree On Punishment

Tennessee was informing the NCAA how it was punishing itself during a time of the 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 doesn’t feel the same way.

The school limited the number of available scholarships last season, docking twelve scholarships in 2022. They also reduced the number during the 2021 season. There is one particular punishment that the school will not be self-imposing.

Tennessee is not going to agree to a bowl-ban, which has been the athletic department’s stance from the beginning. No matter what the other penalties were, the Vols were not going to punish the student-athletes that had nothing to do with the infractions. So, if the NCAA decides they want more blood, the school will take this investigation to a court room.

The inner-workings of the NCAA are outdated, with a group continuing to hang on to the last bit of power they hold over college athletics. There will be many who side with Tennessee in its fight to end this ordeal that started at a news conference on Martin Luther King day in 2020.

Even though I’ve grown tired of the NCAA, I do understand where they might have a problem with some of the self-imposed penalties. After all, this was a Tennessee football program led by Jeremy Pruitt and his staff that was pretty much running a hotel scheme for recruits, along with many other infractions.

Tennessee AD Danny White on the sidelines in Baton Rouge
Tennessee AD Danny White watches on. via: Trey Wallace

The NCAA System Is Broken

Cash payments happen everyday on college campuses. Stories of star recruits receiving a little extra cash on-top of an official visit will live on forever. Players receiving cash, coaches being dumb enough to not use a burner phone, having families get involved with infractions. Most of this went down at Tennessee, when NIL had not yet become legal.

So, when the new regime comes in and notices this mess sitting on their desk, the obvious decision is to try and remove it, quickly. Fully involving the NCAA in every move was a bold strategy that the school decided was the right decision from the start.

But after all of the hard work and lawyers sucking every penny they can from the school, Tennessee and the NCAA still couldn’t come to agreement.

Tennessee has reduced scholarships, adopted recruiting restrictions, self-imposed fines, fired every person caught cheating, but this still isn’t enough. Is the NCAA out for blood? Yes and no. As I’ve been told repeatedly, the holdup centers around the school not hammering itself enough in the eyes of the enforcer.

Maybe the NCAA and Tennessee will come to some kind of agreement in two weeks? The fact they’re having to meet in the first place should already answer that rhetorical question. As for Jeremy Pruitt, he’s got nothing to lose. He’ll be penalized either way, it’s just a question of how many years. Pruitt is hoping to get back into college football, so telling the truth is imperative starting Wednesday.

Expect the unexpected. One day it will all make sense of just how crazy this has all been. Meanwhile, Josh Heupel tries to continue rebuilding a football program left for dead two years ago.

Written by Trey Wallace

Trey Wallace is the host of The Trey Wallace Podcast that focuses on a mixture of sports, culture, entertainment along with his perspective on everything from College Football to the College World Series.

Wallace has been covering college sports for 15 years, starting off while attending the University of South Alabama. He’s broken some of the biggest college stories including the Florida football “Credit Card Scandal” along with the firing of Jim McElwin and Kevin Sumlin. Wallace also broke one of the biggest stories in college football in 2020 around the NCAA investigation into recruiting violations against Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt.

Wallace also appears on radio across seven different states breaking down that latest news in college sports.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply
  1. great article Trey. You’re starting to scratch the service. I like the way you start to categorize the various “violations”, which obtw is 100% “doing your job”, at every SEC school (as you allude to). Let’s deconstruct and reveal where UT’s traps “only just begin”. First, the “hotel scheme”- same lady in the Athletic office for 30 years books those rooms! The hotel is owned by a booster whose name is on buildings on campus! Do we think Jeremy’s staff constructed this path to roof-over-heads?? no, it was built and well-lubed for decades. Cash payments- to the point you reference, but seriously let’s be remotely fair- the SEC schemes have been, and still are, awash in cash to cruits/players. The bottom line is if Jeremy wants to fry UT and Fulmer, and Donta, he certainly can. It will be interesting what angle he plays. Two critical points- the lady leading the COI is a former 17 yr president of Northern Colorado University. Are you kidding me??!! How insanely pathetic and inappropriate. She’s probably fretted over wax for ski’s, and heavens knows, but certainly clueless about the reality of major college anything. And don’t give me the rules apply to everyone, cause they flat out don’t. Second- just wait til the next legal challenge to the NCAA ShowCause Penalty’s authority. McNair/USC settled for $8mm in 2020. I think there is class-action suit about to happen with Coaches who have been banned from making a living because the make-believe, illusory-compliance, selecively prosecution of the NCAA!

  2. Looks like we have another person that thinks that not following the rules. It’s OK and when you get suspended I’m Going to file a lawsuit. You pay for your actions when you do Illegal things. I worked as an Leo for 33 years. And if I did something bad enough the state could pull my certificate to be In law enforcement and I couldn’t work in law enforcement again. You don’t seem to be mature enough to understand that what you do in life you Are held accountable. You need to mature before starting a the family and your first stop would be getting god in your life

Leave a Reply