An NCAA Notice of Allegations is accusing former Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt, former members of his staff, and even his wife of recruiting violations, according to a report Friday from Sports Illustrated.
In a 51-page document, the NCAA alleges Pruitt arranged for at least six recruits to visit Tennessee during the yearlong COVID recruiting shutdown, where Pruitt and staff covered all expenses on the trip to Knoxville. The report also accuses Pruitt of providing cash to players' families to cover medical bills and a vehicle down payment.
Beyond that, the NCAA uncovered evidence Pruitt stepped beyond the bounds of the recruiting rulebook within his first year at Tennessee. The NOA accuses the Pruitts of making $12,000 in cash payments to recruits.
While the Tennessee and the Pruitts are accused of providing cash and McDonald's food to recruits, the report does not state that cash was provided in McDonald's bags, as has been reported.
Tennessee's athletics department received praise from the NCAA for its swift and thorough investigation of Pruitt and his staff. The school fired Pruitt in January of 2021, concluding his 3-year tenure with a record of 16-19. Tennessee went 3-7 in the all-SEC season of 2020.
As such, it's expected Tennessee will avoid significant scholarship reductions or a bowl ban, though a final decision is yet to come. Tennessee has 90 days to respond to the NOA. “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,” said AD Danny White, who was hired shortly after Pruitt's firing. “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.”
Pruitt spent 2021 as a senior defensive assistant for the New York Giants but is no longer on staff in the changeover from Joe Judge to Brian Daboll. The remainder of the assistants named in the report and dismissed by Tennessee along with Pruitt are now working in the NFL or high school football. The other coaches and staffers named in the report are defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley, outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton, inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer, director of player personnel Drew Hughes, director of recruiting Bethany Gunn, and assistant director of recruiting Chantryce Boone, as well as an unnamed student assistant.
The timing of the investigations will bring up obvious ethical questions, given that, in 2022, Tennessee recruits could be paid thousands of dollars to, say, appear at a Knoxville-area McDonald's, especially given that Tennessee's collective is among the most aggressive in the NIL space. However, NCAA rules still prohibit coaches from directly providing cash to recruits, as well as arranging visits to campus during recruiting dead periods.
What Pruitt is accused of doing from 2018 to 2020 would still be a violation in 2022, though whether the NCAA has the stomach to pursue such violations today is another question entirely.