The NCAA has charged Tennessee’s football program with 18 alleged Level I violations, the most serious under the rules, for impermissible recruiting benefits totaling about $60,000 paid to prospects under former coach Jeremy Pruitt.
Among other allegations, Pruitt is accused of giving 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 pay her car payment.
Tennessee, which fired Pruitt in January 2021 after its internal investigation into the allegations, has not been charged with a 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.
“At every step of this process, we took swift and decisive action that exemplified the long-standing 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 quickly to terminate the employment of the football coaches and staff, and shared our findings with the NCAA enforcement staff.”
The NCAA accused Pruitt of failing to foster an atmosphere of compliance and failing to supervise his staff. Former defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley, now defensive backs coach with the Los Angeles Chargers; former linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer, now defensive coordinator at IMG Academy; and former linebackers coach Shelton Felton, now the head coach at Valdosta High School in Georgia, were also named in the alleged violations, along with a personnel director, a recruiting director and two other employees.
“Pruitt did not demonstrate that he supervised his employees or fostered an atmosphere of compliance in the football program when at least a dozen of his employees were involved in more than 200 individual violations of NCAA law over a two-year period as set forth in Claims Nos. 1 through 9,” the notice of allegations stated. “As evidenced by the number of employees 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 comply with NCAA rules and failed to establish a program that includes immediate reporting of actual and potential problems to compliance staff.”
The NCAA accused Pruitt and his staff of hosting six recruits and their families during a year-long dead period, during which programs were not allowed to have recruiting activity on campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCAA said the volunteers hosted the prospects on unofficial visits over nine weekends between July 2020 and November 2020, where prospects were provided free lodging, meals, transportation and other benefits totaling $12,000.
Among the perks allegedly given to potential clients were nail salon treatments and a ride on the Tennessee River on a student-athlete’s boat.
“Receipt of our Notice of Allegations was an expected, necessary step in this process — a process that our university proactively initiated 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 cannot discuss the matter in detail. As a university, we understand the need to take responsibility for what happened, 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 a lack of institutional control and even praised the volunteers for their cooperation during the investigation.
“The actions taken by the institution during the investigation should be the standard for all institutional investigations of potential violations,” the notice of allegations said. “Throughout the investigation, the institution demonstrated exemplary cooperation in several ways. As soon as the institution’s chancellor was notified of 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.