A month ago, Tennessee football made the bold decision to delay its response to the NCAA notice of allegations regarding what happened in the Jeremy Pruitt era. They were 7-0 at the time and firmly in the College Football Playoff race, so this pushed back any potential bowl ban for this year.
Well, with no playoff in store now, they may have played themselves if a bowl ban is inevitable. That didn’t seem like an issue given how the NCAA reported that the university handled everything right with the investigation and nobody directly involved with the violations remains in the program anymore.
However, a new report by the Knoxville News Sentinel suggests some trouble for Tennessee football. The Vols reportedly disputed five of the 18 Level 1 violations discovered by the NCAA, and they deal with how the administration responded to what was happening under Pruitt.
In short, UT disagrees with the notion that it failed to monitor the program during the violations. The school insists it was impossible to monitor them to that level. New details include Pruitt paying a player’s mom with cash in a Chick-fil-A bag and Pruitt’s wife and babysitter giving a player’s mom money for monthly car payments.
While these are fairly explosive new details, they don’t change the nature of the investigation given what we already knew. What changes is the fact that the Vols, who have been praised for their handling of this issue, are now in a dispute with the NCAA.
That could become a problem. If Tennessee football was confident in how the investigation was playing out, it wouldn’t need to dispute the NCAA on anything. Doing so suggests there is a real concern that they might actually receive a punishment they don’t want.
Could that mean a bowl ban next year? Given how Josh Heupel is building the program right now, that’s the last thing they need. Any postseason ban could halt some of the momentum that’s been happening, particularly since no playoff is in store this year.
Combine that with what may be an inevitable reduction in scholarships, and the university may feel necessary recruiting to build more depth, particularly on defense, may be in real danger. That’s a far cry from where we thought this investigation would be a year ago.
For what it’s worth, the university only somewhat has a point. Monitoring bags of cash given to players was probably difficult, but if Pruitt was directly covering people’s car payments, the NCAA might have a strong case that UT should have known about that.
At the same time, the way Tennessee football investigated the situation had to buy them some good will, so this could go either way. You would think the NCAA might back off a bit with NIL money coming into play so quickly after this, but we’ll just have to wait and see.