Tennessee football committed a minor NCAA violation when recruits walked along the pregame path of the Vol Walk before the Ole Miss game.
And UT basketball committed another violation because a recruit dribbled a ball on the Thompson-Boling Arena court during a photo shoot.
Those unusual instances were among three infractions reported by UT athletics in the second half of 2021, according to a university document obtained by Knox News via a public records request.
UT football is under an NCAA investigation for Level I and Level II infractions, which are serious in nature and allegedly occurred under former coach Jeremy Pruitt.
But this latest infraction under coach Josh Heupel is Level III, a general term which the NCAA rulebook calls a basic breach of conduct. Level III violations are common and routinely reported by athletics departments at every school.
“Level III violations are a byproduct of a healthy compliance program,” UT senior associate athletics director for compliance J.B. Bowling said in a statement. “There are thousands of NCAA rules and interpretations of those rules, so it is expected that inadvertent, minor violations may occur on occasion. We will continue to address issues such as these as part of our normal compliance program.”
Here are the unique circumstances that resulted in NCAA violations for the Vols.
Recruits caught in crowd, escaped via Vol Walk
On Oct. 16, before UT played a home game against Ole Miss, fans packed the Vol Walk pathway, where players and coaches make their traditional trek from Gibbs Hall to Gate 21 of Neyland Stadium.
Recruits were at the football practice facility and overseen by UT’s recruiting support staff. They were supposed to watch Vol Walk from a parking lot overlooking the route. But congestion from the huge number of fans hemmed in the recruits and botched that plan.
“After getting stuck at the top of the street where buses would unload the football team in approximately 5-10 minutes, and being unable to get back to an area away from the street because of directions from police officers working crowd control, (the assistant director of recruiting) made the decision to direct the prospects toward the stadium as quickly as possible,” the university report said.
“At that point, because of the number of fans, this involved walking down the street and created an impermissible gameday simulation.”
So rather than watch Vol Walk, recruits participated in it — or, at least, a preview of it before the team did the real thing.
UT reported mitigating circumstances to the NCAA. The recruiting staff was new and unfamiliar with contingency plans. It was the first night game that recruits attended. And it was the first sellout crowd of the season, creating unanticipated congestion around Vol Walk as fans filled the streets before UT faced Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss squad.
UT took action and self-imposed sanctions: rules training for its staff; reduction of recruiting contact opportunities by one; designed different route for recruits around Vol Walk to avoid a repeat occurrence; and Heupel was notified that a similar violation may result in his suspension for one or more games, which is standard language for deterring future infractions.
The SEC further ruled that UT could not have in-person off-campus contact with the involved recruits for 14 days, beginning Dec. 8, and the assistant director of recruiting could not engage in recruiting activities from Dec. 10-12.
And the NCAA required UT to suspend the assistant director of recruiting for one game, and the football program reduced its recruiting evaluation days by two.
Photo shoot for basketball recruit
In June, a men’s basketball recruit on an official visit was permitted to dress in a Vols uniform, walk onto the court with a basketball and take part in a photo shoot.
It was monitored by UT assistant athletics director for digital and creative strategy, but no basketball staff members were involved.
Photo shoots for recruits is a standard practice for official visits. They’re done in UT’s digital studio, basketball locker room or elsewhere in Thompson-Boling Arena. Recruits often hold a basketball and pose in various ways.
During this visit, the photo shoot was done on the Thompson-Boling Arena court, which is generally permitted. But when the recruit dribbled a basketball, that constituted a “display (of) athletic abilities” and a “gameday simulation,” according to the report.
If the Thompson-Boling Arena basketball floor had not been laid, as is the case for graduation commencement and other events, dribbling would’ve been permitted. Or if the recruit dribbled during a photo shoot in the locker room, which isn’t a basketball court, it would’ve been permitted.
UT self-imposed sanctions: rules training for the assistant athletics director and basketball program; reduction of recruiting contact opportunities by one; reduction of recruiting days by two for the 2021-22 academic year; and coach Rick Barnes was notified that a similar violation may result in his suspension for one or more games.
The SEC and NCAA did not administer further penalties.
Voluntary workouts on social media
The third infraction was more common.
Last summer, UT’s assistant director of Olympic sports performance violated NCAA rules by publicizing voluntary workouts by student-athletes on social media.
According to the report, the assistant director was not aware their action constituted an infraction.
The social media posts were removed, and UT held training on the specific rule. The SEC and NCAA did not administer further penalties.
Reach Adam Sparks at email@example.com and on Twitter @AdamSparks.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee football committed NCAA violation with recruits on Vol Walk