NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee football head coach Josh Heupel called the NCAA Investigation a “speed bump” when he stood at SEC Media Days in 2022. In 2023, he called it the same thing.
The “speed bump” finally has its punishments. The Vols avoided the dreaded bowl ban.
Tennessee was handed an $8 million fine and scholarship bans. The self-imposed punishments by Tennessee’s administration lessened the punishment from the NCAA.
“I find out the night before that it’s coming out,” Heupel said at SEC Media Days. “At that point, you don’t know what you don’t know. So when we got the word the following morning, there was a sense of relief that. Our players, it would have been easy for us to take a bowl ban in year one when I first took the job. We were down to 65 scholarship players and nobody knew what the season was going to look like. Our administration just didn’t feel like that was the right thing to do for for the players that stuck around and it wasn’t the right thing to do.”
Avoiding a self-imposed bowl ban and cooperating with the NCAA was the right move, with the Vols able to participate in the postseason with no postseason ban hanging over the program.
“I said in a room just like this two years ago that it would be a speed bump for the program, our football
program,” Heupel said. “And a few days ago, we found out that that certainly was the case.”
Heupel said several times on Thursday that rival SEC coaches used the impending NCAA investigation to negatively recruit against the Vols. Now, aside from having recruiting restrictions levied by the NCAA, the Vols will have a weight lifted off their shoulders in recruiting.
“I think when the penalty came out, a lot of people just looked forward,” Heupel said. “You better go back and look backwards and seethe things that we self-imposed and and how we had to navigate that space. The uncertainty, how other teams have beat us up on the recruiting trail, sensationalize it a little bit of what was going to happen in transpire. We’ve only navigated the space because we’ve been thoughtful. We’ve put the student athlete first. We have great transparency and communication inside of our program. That’s with our staff, that’s with our current players, and it’s with recruits. That’s why I feel like, as much of a climb as we had in the first 24 months, the trajectory of where we were and where we can go. I don’t know if there’s ever been a better time to be a Vol.”
For Tennessee’s current players, the investigation has not weighed on them much. Many players said, at SEC Media Days, that they don’t pay attention to the noise surrounding the program.
While that is easy to say, Heupel said his team’s reaction showed they weren’t paying attention.
“We did it via Zoom inside of our building.,” Heupel said. “Our guys really haven’t been focused on that in any way. I’m not sure that they’ve talked about it a whole lot. I’m sure the next morning saw things on social media that it was going to be coming out and maybe what was coming out. But it was a really quick team meeting. They took the information. We’re ready to go compete and get after it.”