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UT defends itself over NCAA violations of 'severe breaches of conduct' during Pruitt era

UT claimed it had been "repeatedly deceived" by Pruitt and his staff when the severe breaches of conduct occurred.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee on Monday gave its formal response to the NCAA over violations that occurred during former football head coach Jeremy Pruitt's tenure.

Back in July, the university received a notice of allegations from the NCAA for 18 allegations that the football program had spent nearly $60,000 in "impermissible recruiting inducements and extra benefits," which could be considered bribes, to court both prospective and current student-athletes.

Those happened between 2019 to 2020 when Pruitt was the head coach.

The NCAA said in its allegations that UT had "failed to monitor" its football program when the violations occurred. UT defended itself against that claim in its nearly 100-page response on Nov. 21, claiming it had been "repeatedly deceived" by Pruitt and his staff. 

"The University’s expectations for NCAA rules compliance were clear, yet J. Pruitt and his staff repeatedly deceived the University to such a degree that compliance staff could not reasonably prevent, or immediately detect, the intentional misconduct that occurred in this case," the university said in the report.

The list of 18 allegations from 2018 to 2020 involved Pruitt, his wife, his assistant coaches, recruiting staff and others, records show. The NCAA said it considered these incidents to be severe breaches in conduct.

Some allegations included staff spending large amounts of money on hotel and food expenses for prospective athletes during unofficial visits, spending hundreds of dollars on nail salon treatments and trips to attractions around the area.

One allegation from January 2019 said Jeremy Pruitt paid someone approximately $3,000 in cash to "assist her in paying a past debt for medical bills." Another allegation from the same month said Pruitt and a staff member paid a prospective athlete $400 in cash at the conclusion of an official visit.

"It is alleged that between November 2018 through August 2020, Jeremy Pruitt (J. Pruitt), then head football coach, violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct when he knowingly arranged, offered and provided prospective and enrolled student-athletes and their family members or individuals associated with prospective student-athletes (IAWP) with improper inducements and extra benefits in the form of impermissible IAWP entertainment and cash payments to numerous individuals," the NCAA report said. 

You can read the NCAA's full report at this link.

In its response, UT argued that it had made every effort to investigate the violations, hold Pruitt and his staff responsible and ensure athletes who had no role in the allegations would not suffer consequences. UT argued against the NCAA implementing "the most severe penalties" in this case, particularly a post-season ban that would impact current student-athletes and coaches it said were not responsible for the violations.

"The University has taken full responsibility for the underlying violations in Allegations 1 through 9 but submits that it would be duplicative and heavy-handed to assess another violation (and penalties) because the University did not immediately detect, or prevent altogether, the dishonest and unethical conduct of the involved individuals," it said.

UT said it agreed many of the facts in the case were "substantially correct" in its response, except for when it came to claims the university failed to monitor for misconduct.

"Despite the University’s monitoring efforts, athletics administrators and athletics compliance staff members were repeatedly deceived by the football program. The University respectfully submits that it is unrealistic to expect an institution to prevent, or immediately detect, the intentional and concealed misconduct that occurred in this case," UT said. 

Tennessee has not self-imposed a postseason ban. The university awaits punishment from the NCAA based on the final responses to the investigation.

Sources have indicated to WBIR that punishment is expected to be centered on Pruitt and his former staff members.

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