'VIP status' probed

'VIP status' probed

July 10th, 2010 by David Paschall in Sports - College

AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL - University of Tennessee football players Da'Rick Rogers and Darren Myles Jr. leave the Knox County Sheriff's Office Detention Facility on Friday, July 9, 2010.

University of Tennessee compliance officials are looking into comments made by Bar Knoxville co-owner Sandy Morton regarding preferential treatment of Volunteers football players.

Morton, who shares ownership with her husband, told the Times Free Press early Friday morning that players do not have to pay an admission charge.

"They're on a first-name basis with my husband, and they get VIP status, which means they pay no cover at the door," Morton said. "We've never had a problem with them in the past, but tonight, apparently they had a falling out with another gentleman."

If Bar Knoxville has been enforcing a cover charge for other UT students but not UT athletes, then the establishment has violated an NCAA rule regarding entertainment services.

NCAA Bylaw 16.11.2.2.3 states "a student-athlete may not receive services (e.g., movie tickets, dinners, use of car) from commercial agencies (e.g., movie theaters, restaurants, car dealers) without charge or at reduced rates, or free or reduced-cost admission to professional athletics contests from professional sports organizations, unless such services also are available to the student body in general."

Bar Knoxville would seem to have violated this bylaw, but it may take several months to determine whether the violation is major or secondary. If hundreds of student-athletes over multiple years have entered free of charge, then the composite value of those benefits would be in the thousands of dollars and would warrant a major violation.

Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley served as the university's lone voice Friday when he provided a statement that did not address looking into Bar Knoxville's "VIP status," but sources told the Times Free Press that Morton's claims already are being investigated.

Athletic director Mike Hamilton did not return messages from the Times Free Press, and the Southeastern Conference did not have anyone in its office Friday who could comment on the incident.