Normally, when the NCAA comes out and alleges a series of Level I violations against a school, it’s a huge problem, and you know that serious punishment is on the horizon. However, that makes the situation with Tennessee football all the more confusing.
According to Adam Sparks of the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Vols received a notice of allegations from the NCAA based on violations committed under Jeremy Pruitt. There are 18 Level I violations alleged involving nearly $60,000 in cash and gifts to recruits, players and their families.
On the surface, Tennessee football would seem done as a program for that. However, the same report went out of its way to give the Vols credit. The NCAA touted the Vols for coming forward about the allegations and considered them a model program for handling such issues. Here’s what was written about them.
"“The actions taken by the institution during the investigation should be the standard for any institutional inquiries into potential violations.”"
Although punishment awaits, that’s an insane thing for the NCAA to note about a school it’s levying serious charges against. However, if you follow how the university handled everything, you can’t ask for much more, and it’s why they deserve leniency.
It starts with the fact that the university itself reported the violations to the NCAA. Then they cut bait with Pruitt immediately, firing him for cause, and they even got athletic director Phillip Fulmer to step down. From the jump, UT was on top of this.
Going deeper than that, though, John Brice of Football Scoop notes that the university requested earlier in the summer for the NCAA to delay its notice of allegations because it had been working on changing its investigation process.
Those changes would involve a focus less on punishing the schools for infractions if the parties involved in those infractions were no longer there. All of this explains why the Vols were confident with their own internal investigation and didn’t self-impose a bowl ban back in November.
Taking all of this into account, Chancellor Donde Plowman deserves a ton of credit. She may have saved Tennessee football by getting out in front of this, and she acted immediately. Firing Pruitt and getting Fulmer to step aside was part of it, but that also helped get rid of the to key assistants involved, Brian Niedermeyer and Shelton Felton.
Hiring Danny White after that appears to have paid off in a big way, and White hiring Josh Heupel has also worked out. Beyond just getting out in front of the investigation, she brought in the best athletic director, and she saved the university tons of money by being able to fire Pruitt for cause, so they don’t owe another buyout.
All signs from this point to no bowl ban. There may be some scholarship reductions, but with NIL money having an impact now, the number of scholarships isn’t as crucial. As a result, Tennessee football may have finessed its way out of some of the most serious violations in FBS history. Alabama Crimson Tide fans will have more conspiracies out of that.