Vols

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker

While the University of Tennessee’s football program is still dealing with the fallout from its 2020 recruiting scandal under former head coach Jeremy Pruitt, the school decided after an internal investigation to continue accepting bowl game invitations. 

School officials announced Thursday that following an internal investigation that began in Nov. 2020 that UT won’t self-impose a bowl game ban, clearing the way for the Vols to continue participating in postseason games, at least for now. The university cited NCAA bylaws that prohibit it from sharing details of the investigation.

The NCAA is still conducting its own probe into the ordeal that led to the firing of Pruitt and seven others and could impose its own punishments such as scholarship reductions, recruiting limitations or a bowl ban of its own.

“We will hold ourselves accountable considering the nature of the violations, our prompt investigation and corrective personnel actions, the new recruiting environment and other factors,” the university said in a statement. “In the interest of protecting the rights of innocent student-athletes, the university will not impose a postseason bowl ban.

“We will now work to finalize a fair and efficient resolution through the applicable process while navigating a rapidly changing landscape in intercollegiate athletics that includes transformative change for the NCAA, the Alston decision and significant new name, image and likeness rights for our student-athletes.”

Pruitt, now a senior defensive assistant with the New York Giants, coached at UT from 2018-20, posting a 16-19 overall record. He has since hired an attorney and threatened a lawsuit after the school did not pay his $12.6 million buyout, stating he was fired with cause.

Along with Pruitt, two other assistant coaches and members of the recruiting and support staff got the axe after the university self-reported recruiting violations last fall that involved its football and women’s basketball teams. Tennessee has seen a flurry of transfers from its football team since then, including prized recruits like linebacker Henry To’o To’o, running back Eric Gray and quarterback Harrison Bailey. 

The retirement of former football coach Phil Fulmer as the school’s athletic director followed quickly after the findings were made public, though he attests the decision had nothing to do with Pruitt’s firing, rather a need for the new football coach to be picked by a new AD.

Pruitt was replaced by former UCF coach Josh Huepel, who has the Vols currently in third place in the SEC East with a 4-4 (2-3) record. The team faces No. 18 Kentucky on the road on Saturday. They need just two more wins to be bowl eligible.

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