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Tennessee baseball: Tony Vitello’s suspension has everything to do with football

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Tennessee coach Tony Vitello had to know that there is no leeway for skirting NCAA rules, if that’s indeed what he did that led to his weekend suspension. Baseball, nor any other sport, shouldn’t even be toeing the line with UT’s football team under investigation.

Vitello has been suspended before, but this is different. Bumping an umpire is one thing. Drawing the ire of the NCAA to the point in which a suspension is deemed necessary in the middle of the season is something completely different. Vitello’s suspension is a major concern. Even though it might just end up being a secondary violation, Vitello should have known better.

Despite the recent rise of Tennessee baseball into the daily sports lexicon in Knoxville and beyond, college baseball is still a non-revenue sport and it’s certainly not remotely as important as football even though it may have seemed like it last spring and summer. 

It’s much easier to make a statement with baseball than it is in football. When is the last time a Tennessee football coach has been suspended for a contest suddenly in the middle of the season? Never. Tennessee would rather stand its ground against the NCAA than admit to a serious issue with football. The Vols aren’t going to get as defensive about any other sport.

Former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl coached a revenue sport and was still suspended during the season in 2010-2011 and eventually fired by Tennessee for “unethical conduct” when he reportedly lied to the NCAA and UT over what was a rather mundane NCAA violation. Remember the press conference announcing Pearl’s suspension? All was thought to be taken care of. Then, things just kept getting worse.

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The Vitello issue doesn’t seem like it could end up in a separation from Tennessee, but no one thought Pearl would be fired either when news first broke about his NCAA issue. Tennessee tried to stand by Pearl, but there was just too much malfeasance and too much of chance that football could be affected.

No matter how well your team performs in any sport other than football, SEC schools (other than Kentucky) are going to take extreme measures to protect their football program. In this case, Vitello was thrown to the wolves as the Vols are still trying to wrap up a two-year long case concerning violations that allegedly occurred under former football coach Jeremy Pruitt. Don’t think for a second that the investigation with football didn’t lead to Vitello’s prompt suspension. The Vols would rather be guilty of overkill than just standing by.

Tennessee, although it’s fighting the charge, was accused of a “lack of institutional control” by the NCAA for violations under Pruitt. That’s the most serious NCAA violation that a school can be charged with and it can potentially extend outside of just one sport, like football. That means, any sport, including baseball, needs to mind its p’s and q’s.

The Vitello incident feels like the early days of the Pearl incident, in which it was thought to be a quick fix and a bump in the road. A short suspension was supposed to handle everything. However, it was later proven that Pearl misled the NCAA and UT. If Vitello did that, then this weekend’s suspension may just be the beginning. There’s a mushroom cloud waiting to expand if Vitello misled anyone like Pearl did in response to his NCAA issue at Tennessee.

As much as fans love Vitello and as much as he has done for the Vols’ baseball program, he would simply be viewed as collateral damage if Tennessee’s administration thought that a baseball violation would affect the football program. Vitello and baseball being relevant is great, but, football is king. Sure, Vitello is popular, but there isn’t a line on a spreadsheet for being exciting and affable.

There’s also reason to wonder how Vitello might feel about the embarrassment of being suspended midseason. He’s had similar to success on the field that Tennessee football coach Josh Heupel has achieved. However, Vitello’s suspension was a glaring reminder that other sports will not be treated like football. That just makes financial sense as Tennessee’s football program brings in the vast majority of revenue.

Any football coach with success at Tennessee will get the full backing of the university. Any other coach will likely be sacrificed to show the NCAA that all is good with the Vols. That is likely what happened to Vitello. As long as there aren’t further transgressions to surface as there were with Pearl, Vitello should be fine.

Should Tennessee baseball fans be concerned? Absolutely. All may go swimmingly after this week’s suspension, but there’s also a very distinct chance that more damning information could come out of a UT investigation into Vitello’s Diamond Vols. If that’s the case, then the exciting, feel-good story of Tennessee baseball could be short-lived. The Vols, just based on financial sense, would gladly turn their back on a non-revenue sport to protect the Big Orange Goose, football. All decisions in UT’s athletic department involve football. That’s especially true when the NCAA is poking around. If Vitello didn’t know that before, he sure does now.

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16 Responses

  1. I see Tennessee as a wimp now. The NCAA is going to hurt us more than any other school in history because of giving money to players a couple years before NIL can do it legally in all sports. Now to go after the baseball coach or the university to suspend him for the weekend, so he can think about what he did, as punishment. Then on Monday, the media team can present to everyone what may have happened in order to make the NCAA Mobsters paid and contented til next time. Yes, there will be a next time when you got people on campus with spy glasses overlooking anything and everything touched by the coaches or athletics directors.

    Let’s move on and play some baseball and not offer a sacrifice of a coach who is considered a bad boy. He is the director of the fur coat wearing, daddy cap toteing, foul mouthing, record setting, most popular team to be either hated or loved, the heels of any college baseball team in America.

    Set Tony free and let’s see how far this years team goes. I say lets go to Omaha.

    Go Vols.

    1. If you actually knew anything except mudslinging this article would be news but it’s nothing more than a wannabe with an axe to grind. Get out

  2. Hey writer, when stirring the crap which way do you stir? Thrown to the wolves? Mid-season? Are you kidding me? Him and tennessee decided together that he should take a suspension for the Dayton series. Thrown to the wolves? We are completely revamping the stadium, locker rooms and weight rooms for baseball, all for Tony v. Get your crap straight bauce, Tony V. home is in Knoxville Tennessee.

    1. But Bill, it seems that Hooker is telling us, fans of Tennessee Baseball and other sports, that the NCAA has had the Jeremy Pruitt matter under investigation under consideration for 2-years. The biggest hit that the NCAA could find is “Lack of Institutional Control.” Several years ago Bruce Pearl was fired by UT, before the NCAA made a finding. This was to impress the NCAA that everything was under control in Knoxville.
      Now we come to Tony Vitallo. Apparently he did something that the Athletic Director thought could be seen to as an NCAA rules violation. The new A.D. is hyper sensitive because of the pending NCAA findings on the Pruitt matter. He’s quite willing to throw Vitallo under the bus. Vitallo, you must remember, wasn’t hired by A.D. White, whereas he brought the football coach with him. I’m thinking that White stands ready to throw Tony under the bus. As Hooker says baseball is a “non revenue” sport, and Tony received a significant salary after last season, so I would think White would be glad to bring in a less expensive coach. Then he would have more for the football program. In my opinion this is a crappy way to treat baseball, or any other program. But if I had to bet, I would bet that we’re going to see the A.D. and the Knoxville Chancellor having a news conference today throwing Tony under the bus. Perhaps I’m just too hard, but I have no confidence in A.D. While, nor in the way that White was hired, and then began a “search” for a football coach. They hired the UCF coach, and I assert that that hire was part of White’s deal when he was hired.

      No one in the Athletic Department, which is now a very large commercial entity, gives a hoot about baseball, softball, track and field, tennis, golf, or any other “non revenue” sport.

      1. I hate to sound harsh, but I see the business perspective of it. You can NOT let anything even POSSIBLY hurt football.

        1. I don’t care. If football caused all this about Tony, let football take the heat. Tony has been for the Vols. So what you’re saying, it’s ok to do good but don’t overshadow football. Bull crap.

  3. That’s a chilling column! You speak to all that’s wrong with college athletics. We no longer have “student athletes,” we have athletes who may go to class, or may sit at a computer and hit the button for the provided answers. And don’t forget the good old NIL. Now we’re paying the performers. But the baseball guys can’t get a scholarship, so they get an NIL deal for tee shirts.
    You don’t say, that I can see, what Vitello did to deserve the wrath of our multimillion dollar Athletic Director, and how was this horrible deed discovered, and by whom.
    I’m Class of’71, and I’ve seen a lot of crap over the years. Bruce Pearl brought UT basketball to national prominence, then he got thrown to the wolves. Tony Vitello brought Tennessee baseball to national prominence, and the wolves are back.
    I’ll grant you that the recent football season went well, but only by a hair. Yet the masses promote the football coach, and he gets a big raise. Oh, and the $10 million QB’s on the way from California. How much of that NIL deal’s he planning to give those big fellows who keeping him from getting sacked?
    There’s little interest in “non-revenue” sports. I remember when Lady Vols Basketball was “non-revenue.”

  4. Well written article Mr Hooker. Some valid areas of concern for all VOL fans. As much as I hate to admit it, your comparison to Coach Pearl’s situation is alarmingly concerning.
    As we all know, football is king, but I hate that we have to bow down to the spineless corrupt & biased NCAA when they have clearly targeted the “lesser”(in their biases) schools while idly overlooking issues with their media darlings…i.e. OSU w/ Meyer’s coverup of domestic abuse, UA’s casual response to Miller’s “indiscretions”, KANSAS Bill Self…etc etc.
    NCAA needs to go the way of rotary phones & Commodore 64s. Surely there is something better.

  5. Kinda like Dave Hooker should’ve known better and not ambushed Inky Johnson on Tennessee’s campus and go through the correct lines of contact and that got Hooker suspended? Kinda like that? Stop trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill! Vitello did NOT LIE when asked by UT administration like Pearl did and agreed to the 3 game suspension to get it over with. You should know better!!!

    1. I didn’t ambush Inky and I got employee of the month. Thanks for reading. If you think a suspension midseason is a mole hill, then you’re not living in reality.

  6. Not sure which class in journalism school you were taught the definition of “midseason” but you might want to double check your old text book. They had played all of 5 out of 56 games. They had a 3 game home series scheduled with a cupcake that they beat 22-3 in the combined games without a coach. So, sitting him while they get the situation worked out made all the sense in the world from a practical and optics perspective. They didn’t even need a coach to sweep Dayton.
    That said, your job is to attract eyes, so I can totally understand why you say what you say. If you’re right, then you can apply for a Pulitzer. If you’re wrong, and I strongly suspect you are, then you can just write the next salacious piece of troll fodder that is apparently your chosen purpose in life.

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