Tennessee claims in response to NCAA it was ‘deceived’ by Pruitt

KNOXVILLE, TN - AUGUST 06, 2019 - Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt of the Tennessee Volunteers during 2019 Fall Training Camp practice on Haslam Field in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Caleb Jones/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee has disputed the NCAA's claim that the university failed to monitor its football program under former coach Jeremy Pruitt.

In a 108-page response to the NCAA obtained by the Knoxville News-Sentinel, the school found little argument with most of the 18 Level I violations the NCAA uncovered during its investigation. The university responded to the 18th and most egregious violation by claiming that Pruitt, his wife Casey, and his staff intentionally concealed the distribution of nearly $60,000 in cash or gifts to players and their family members.

Tennessee received its notice of allegations from the NCAA, a 51-page document, on July 22.

"Despite the university's monitoring efforts, athletics administrators and athletics compliance staff members were repeatedly deceived by the football program," Tennessee said in its response to the NCAA. "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."

Pruitt was terminated as Tennessee's coach on Jan. 18, 2021, along with linebackers coaches Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer. The NCAA has alleged those three committed Level I violations along with former defensive coordinator Derek Ansley and three former members of its recruiting staff -- Chantryce Boone, Bethany Gunn and Drew Hughes.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported that Tennessee's response cited the NCAA's acceptance of LSU's self-imposed penalties after that university ignored an implemented recruiting dead period amid the coronavirus pandemic. Tennessee argued that it has cooperated with the NCAA in the same manner LSU did.

LSU was put on a one-year probation this past September but avoided any significant sanctions.

"The factual information in this case demonstrates that experienced football coaches and non-coaching staff members knowingly violated longstanding and universally understood NCAA rules and went to considerable lengths to conceal their misconduct," Tennessee said. "The record also supports that the university monitored football recruiting visits in accordance with industry standards."

The NCAA has 60 days to reply to Tennessee's response.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.