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NCAA charges Tennessee, Jeremy Pruitt with widespread recruiting violations

Tennessee went 16-19 in three seasons under Jeremy Pruitt. (John Bazemore/AP)
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In a notice of allegations detailing blatant recruiting violations, the NCAA outlined charges that include the distribution of about $60,000 of impermissible benefits to players and their families by former Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt, his wife, his staff and at least one booster, according to multiple reports.

Of the 18 alleged Level I violations — the most serious in the NCAA’s classification system — in the report, sent to the school Friday, many outline thousands of dollars in inducements provided to recruits and their families in the form of cash, hotel stays and transportation during or after impermissible recruiting visits. Others are related to unethical behavior in which Pruitt, his coaches and staff members are accused of knowingly providing inducements, then giving false information to investigators and persuading others to do the same.

Pruitt was fired in January 2021, two months after Tennessee launched an investigation. He was 16-19 in three seasons.

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One violation in the NCAA’s notice accuses Pruitt, two recruiting staffers and a booster of providing $12,707 in hotel stays, meals, airfare, game-day parking, furniture and household items to a player from 2018 to 2020. Another alleges that Pruitt’s wife, Casey, provided $12,500 in car payments and $3,000 in rent payments to a player and his mother.

In a third allegation, the NCAA reported that at least seven players were given $1,338 in cash from April to November 2020 for costs accrued while hosting recruits during impermissible visits amid the pandemic-induced recruiting dead period.

The NCAA did not find that Tennessee lacked institutional control, which may safeguard the program from the most crippling penalties. The NCAA also credited Tennessee’s transparency, cooperation and efforts in promptly addressing the alleged violations.

“Receipt of our Notice of Allegations was an expected, requisite step in this process — a process our university initiated proactively through decisive and transparent actions,” Athletic Director Danny White said in a statement Friday. “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.”

Across the 18 violations, some players who received inducements never played for the Volunteers, and others never enrolled. All of the accused individuals were fired or left the school after it began its investigation in November 2020.

Two months later, Tennessee fired Pruitt for cause alongside two assistant coaches and seven staff members. Phillip Fulmer, previously the school’s longtime football coach and at that time its athletic director, stepped down in a concurrent move.

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At the time, Fulmer and Chancellor Donde Plowman signed a letter sent to Pruitt that said his “failure to promote and maintain an atmosphere of compliance and to monitor the activities of the coaches and staff members that report, directly or indirectly, to you has led to the current NCAA investigation and is bringing and will likely continue to bring the University into considerable public disrepute, embarrassment, contempt, scandal, and/or ridicule.”

Josh Heupel replaced Pruitt and went 7-6 in 2021, including 4-4 in SEC play.

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