Tennessee gets extension from NCAA in Jeremy Pruitt recruiting scandal

The University of Tennessee has been granted a 30-day extension by the NCAA to respond to a notice of allegations for violations allegedly committed under fired football coach Jeremy Pruitt, a university spokesperson told Knox News.

In July, the NCAA delivered the notice of 18 Level 1 violations. UT and the people named in the NCAA report had until last week to accept or contest the allegations. The new deadline will be in late November. And then the NCAA enforcement staff will have 60 days to reply to those responses.

That timing is notable because Tennessee is amid its best football season since a 1998 national title run under coach Josh Heupel, who replaced Pruitt in 2021. The Vols have a 7-0 record and ranked No. 3 in both major polls. They could contend for a spot in the College Football Playoffs or a major New Year’s bowl.

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The extended timetable potentially takes a postseason ban for this season off the table. UT did not self-impose a postseason ban, citing new NCAA legislation.

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The new NCAA constitution, which went into effect Aug. 1, changed the enforcement approach by de-emphasizing the use of postseason bans to punish “programs or student-athletes innocent of the infraction(s).”

UT has been active in building its case.

The university paid $143,722 in legal fees to the firm Bond, Schoeneck & King from June to August, according to university records provided to Knox News. That represented its largest quarterly legal expense in a year. Invoices for September and October are not yet available.

Lawyers for UT traveled to Indianapolis, the site of NCAA headquarters, on July 12 and Aug. 9.

The NCAA alleged 18 Level 1 violations − the most serious in its four-tier system − committed by Jeremy and wife Casey Pruitt; assistant coaches Derrick Ansley, Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer; recruiting staff members Drew Hughes, Bethany Gunn and Chantryce Boone; and an unnamed booster from 2018-21.

The NCAA found that they provided almost $60,000 of cash and gifts to players, recruits and their families.

UT football has transformed dramatically in the 18 months since UT Chancellor Donde Plowman announced an internal investigation, fired Pruitt for cause, cleaned house in the football program and accepted athletics director Phillip Fulmer’s retirement.

Plowman hired athletics director Danny White, who tabbed Heupel as football coach. In 2021, Heupel won the Steve Spurrier Award as the top first-year coach in college football with a roster that underwent self-imposed scholarship cuts.

The NCAA case still lingers, but the next step is on pause for now. UT has been active since the beginning, when it took steps to assist the NCAA and perhaps mitigate penalties. 

UT self-reported infractions, conducted an internal investigation with high-powered lawyers, spent about $1.4 million in legal fees, dug up new violations that NCAA investigators had not discovered and fired Pruitt for cause, along with additional coaches and recruiting staff members alleged to have committed violations.

“These actions by (UT) led to the fully-formed record that would not be possible without the significant actions taken by the institution,” the NCAA said in its notice of allegations to UT.

Follow Adam Sparks on Twitter @AdamSparks.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY