Volunteers charged with 18 NCAA violations while coached by Jeremy Pruitt

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The NCAA on Friday charged Tennessee with 18 recruiting violations involving allegations of illegal cash, gifts and benefits given under fired football coach Jeremy Pruitt.

Tennessee has 90 days to respond to the Level I violations, according to the letter from the NCAA.

Pruitt and nine others were fired for cause in January 2021 when an internal investigation found what the university chancellor called “serious violations of NCAA rules.” Chancellor Donde Plowman had said Pruitt was responsible for overseeing the football program. Tennessee has been conducting an internal investigation since receiving a tip Nov. 13, 2020, about alleged recruiting violations.

Also fired were two assistants and seven members of the recruiting and support staff.

Pruitt was the defensive coordinator at Georgia in 2014 and 2015 under coach Mark Richt but departed to become the coordinator at Alabama when Kirby Smart left the Crimson Tide to coach the Bulldogs.

“In every step of this process, we took quick and decisive actions that exemplified the longstanding values of the NCAA reiterated in the membership’s new constitution,” Plowman said in a statement Friday. “The university hired outside counsel to fully investigate allegations about the football program, acted promptly to terminate the employment of football coaches and staff members, and shared our conclusions with the NCAA enforcement staff.

Plowman noted that the NCAA enforcement staff recognized the university’s “exemplary cooperation” in the case.

“While we will take appropriate responsibility, last fall, the university announced that we will not self-impose penalties that harm innocent student-athletes like postseason bans based upon the actions of coaches and staff who are no longer part of the institution,” Plowman said.

Among the allegations, on at least 31 occasions from January 2019 through March 2021, outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton, inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer, recruiting staff member Bethany Gunn and Pruitt’s wife, Casey Pruitt, provided about $16,300 in impermissible benefits to an individual in the form of cash, parking to attend home football games and entertainment expenses to host a recruit’s mother.

On nine separate weekends during a recruiting dead period from July to November 2020, about $12,100 in impermissible recruiting inducements and unofficial visit expenses were provided for six recruits and their families to visit the Knoxville area, according to the complaint.

And on 25 occasions from January 2019 through March 2021, Casey Pruitt allegedly provided a total of $12,500 in cash benefits to an individual for monthly car payments.

In a statement, Tennessee athletic director Danny White said receiving the notice of allegations “was an expected, requisite step in this process — a process our university initiated proactively through decisive and transparent actions. This moves us one step closer to a final resolution.

“Until we get to that point, I am unable to discuss the case in any detail. As a university, we understand the need to take responsibility for what occurred, but we remain committed to protecting our current and future student-athletes.”