The University of Tennessee committed several minor NCAA violations in 2021, according to a university document obtained by Knox News via a public records request. The most notable of these infractions occurred before Tennessee’s home game against Ole Miss during the Vol Walk.
Tennessee recruits walked along the path of the Vol Walk before the team, which constituted a Level III violation. The infraction is tame compared to that of the Level I and Level II violations that occurred under former head coach Jeremy Pruitt. Level III violations are common and are often reported by university athletics departments.
In a statement from J.B. Bowling, Tennessee’s senior associate athletics director for compliance, he explained how these low-level violations came about.
“Level III violations are a byproduct of a healthy compliance program,” Bowling said. “There are thousands of NCAA rules and interpretations of those rules, so it is expected that inadvertent, minor violations may occur on occasion.”
The Vol Walk is a tradition on Tennessee game day, where the coaches and players walk from Gibbs Hall to Neyland Stadium. The Vols hosted Ole Miss on Oct. 16 with former Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin returning to Knoxville. Tensions were high, and Neyland Stadium was boasting a sold-out crowd for the first time since 2017.
Recruits who were visiting the Tennessee football program originally intended to watch the Vol Walk from the adjacent parking lot. However, the sheer amount of fans made it difficult to follow through with 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.
This resulted in the recruits walking ahead of the football team, thus participating in the Vol Walk.
This truly unique circumstance was the perfect storm with the combination of a rival team coming to Knoxville and the number of people in attendance. As a result of this incident, UT’s staff was retrained and a new route for recruits was made. Heupel was warned that a repeat violation could result in suspension.
Along with UT’s actions, the SEC ruled that Tennessee could not have in-person, off-campus contact with the involved recruits for 14 days, beginning Dec. 8. The assistant director of recruiting could not engage in recruiting activities from Dec. 10-12 along with a one-game suspension from the NCAA.
Another Level III violation occurred in June within the Tennessee basketball program. While the team was participating in a photoshoot, one recruit dribbled a basketball on the court. Photoshoots on the court are common, but when the recruit dribbled the ball, it was a “display (of) athletic abilities” and a “game day simulation,” according to the report.
When the photoshoots are held elsewhere on campus or in the locker room, activities like dribbling are fine. Head coach Rick Barnes was informed and the staff was trained to avoid the situation from happening again.
Over the summer, a Tennessee assistant director of Olympic sports performance publicized voluntary workouts by student-athletes on Tennessee’s social media.
According to the report, the assistant director was not aware their action constituted an infraction. The post was taken down, and UT held training on the specifics of the rule, but no penalties were levied out from the NCAA or the SEC.