Tennessee’s release of its response to the notice of NCAA’s findings of allegations was well timed and clearcut.
First, the Vols wanted the response to fly under the radar as much as possible. That’s why they released their response under a Freedom of Information act on Thanksgiving morning, just as turkeys were being prepped.
Here are three things you need to know about the most recent developments in the NCAA’s investigation:
Tennessee didn’t want the release to be a mass news event and that makes perfect sense. The Vols are trying to close out a strong recruiting class and the first national signing day is looming on Dec. 21. The Vols don’t need another rogue coach like Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz to poke fun at Tennessee when players are finalizing their decision.
In fact, there’s a good chance that the Vols could have released their response weeks ago. However, the Vols were in the College Football Playoff hunt so there was no point in expediting things just in case a possible postseason ban came into play. To be very clear, I do not think the penalties will rise to that level, but better safe than sorry.
Why you shouldn’t worry?
Let’s begin with the fundamental basis that the NCAA just doesn’t have much bite any longer when it comes to enforcement. You have to go back to Southern California’s scandal in 2010 or Penn State’s child-abuse scandal in the early 2010’s to find a point in which the NCAA came down hard on the accused. Also, both of those situations were far more dastardly, especially at Penn State, and more orchestrated than what happened at Tennessee. Southern California was giving out houses. Tennessee was giving out small amounts of cash.
The Vols have a simple retort: “We hired a bad football coach and have cleansed the athletic program since then.” That’s a pretty easy argument to make. Tennessee separated themselves from dozens of coaches and administrators when it fired former coach Jeremy Pruitt, who oversaw all of this mess.
Why you should worry?
As much as the NCAA doesn’t have teeth, it is also inconsistent and unpredictable. The punitive action against Southern California in the case mentioned above was far more harsh than anyone thought before the penalties were announced. Also, Southern California parted ways with former coach Pete Carroll before the penalties were announced, although that was by his own doing when he bolted for the NFL. Whether it was for losses, malfeasance or both, the Vols made a very clear decision to separate themselves from Pruitt and are even withholding some of his payout money that was outlined in his contract.
Clearly, UT is putting the entire mess at Pruitt’s feet. Tennessee even disputed one NCAA allegation that they didn’t properly monitor Pruitt and his staff. Tennessee also cited light penalties against LSU as merit for the Vols to receive less-than-harsh penalties.
“Despite the University’s monitoring efforts, athletics administrators and athletics compliance staff members were repeatedly deceived by the football program,” UT said in the response to the NCAA, per Knox News. “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.”
Will the NCAA buy that? It should, but the organization has been just unpredictable enough to make fans of any school in this situation concerned.
I find it very difficult to believe that Tennessee will receive a harsh set of penalties from the NCAA. If I had to predict, I’d say the Vols receive a very small amount of scholarship reductions, some limitations on recruiting travel and hosting prospects, but nothing more than that – no wins vacated and no postseason ban.
Keep this in mind. The NCAA and Tennessee have been down this path before and the NCAA has always respected the Vols, who have always been forthright in their responses.
Former Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey was at the forefront of being open and honest even to the point of self-reporting violations. That reputation means something and will most likely prevent the NCAA from coming down hard on the Vols.