Tenn. Probes Academic Fraud Charges
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Defending national champion Tennessee, which in recent years has uncovered cheating in its advanced degree programs and a telephone card fraud scandal among its athletes, is now investigating whether tutors did schoolwork for football players.
Tennessee President J. Wade Gilley, who started his job last month, said Monday the school is following ``normal procedure and has turned this matter over to the (university’s) general counsel’s office for review.″
``Once this review is complete, the university will announce its findings and, if necessary, take appropriate action,″ he said.
Athletics Director Doug Dickey said the university also has reported the matter to Southeastern Conference commissioner Roy Kramer.
Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer declined to discuss the allegations, which he termed ``a concern.″
``If it is anything about football, I will be glad to talk to you,″ he told about a dozen reporters who met him after practice. ``The players are not going to allow it to be a distraction.″
ESPN reported Sunday that internal memos show high-level administrators in the athletic department were told of four tutors who may have done schoolwork for at least five football players, possibly violating the university’s honor code and NCAA rules.
None of the information was passed on to the proper campus authorities charged with investigating possible rules infractions, said Malcolm McInnis, NCAA compliance officer for Tennessee.
The alleged incidents dated to 1995, and it was unclear whether any of the players were on the 1998 national champion team. Three of the five players have transferred, according to ESPN.
Meanwhile, four Tennessee redshirt freshmen, including kick returner and NCAA champion sprinter Leonard Scott, were held out of the Memphis game on Saturday and placed on indefinite suspension as a result of the school’s internal investigation.
The NCAA is aware of the allegations.
``It is pretty early at this time to know where any of this may go,″ NCAA spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said. ``Typically, in these kinds of scenarios it is very common that the university and the NCAA will be in touch.″
It’s unclear what action might be taken by the school or the NCAA if the allegations are proven. In June, Minnesota coach Clem Haskins resigned under pressure amid accusations of academic fraud in the men’s basketball program.
Tennessee has investigated allegations of academic fraud before.
In 1992, the university rescinded advanced degrees to two University of Tennessee Space Institute graduates who provided government contracts to a professor who supplied them with plagiarized dissertations. All were later convicted of federal fraud charges.
Three years later, the university found 41 athletes charged $26,000 in long distance telephone calls to a stolen university phone card. Two players were suspended for a season and others received lesser punishment.
The new allegations come less than a month after Tennessee touted a much improved graduation rate of 57 percent for all football players who enrolled in 1992. The graduation rate for players enrolled in 1991 was 11 percent _ one of the worst rates in the country.
``When I was there, I never ran across that problem,″ said Joey Kent, a member of the class that entered in 1992 who now plays for the Tennessee Titans.
``Of course you have tutors that know different professors and their tendencies. They try to give you every type of advantage that they can to help you succeed. But when I was there, they didn’t do anything over their duty.″
Dickey said the most pressing issue is to determine the eligibility of Scott and the three other players _ Reggie Ridley, Keyon Whiteside and Ryan Rowe _ before this week’s game against Auburn.
``We really have not done anything about longer-term problems that might be out there,″ he said.
School investigators will want to determine how many current players might be involved, the ``failure to report″ the problem to higher-ups in the program, and the ``overall picture of who is managing what,″ Dickey said.
Carl Asp, Tennessee’s NCAA faculty athletic representative, told ESPN that the internal investigation is focusing on Ron Payne, a longtime tutor who has worked with hundreds of football players for more than a decade.
Robin Wright, the former coordinator for academic programs in the Tennessee athletic department, said she attempted to alert her bosses, Gerry Dickey and Carmen Tegano, to possible academic fraud.
Last December, she sent a memo to Dickey _ no relation to Doug Dickey _ in which she said tutor Jenai Brown ``admitted to me that she had been `helping the guys with their papers.‴
Brown denied doing any work for players she tutored.
``That’s a lie, I can tell you that,″ she said.
According to memos obtained by ESPN, Wright cited five unidentified players she believed may have committed academic fraud _ a defensive lineman, a linebacker, a receiver, a defensive back and a center.
The defensive back used an unapproved math tutor who admitted she had gone to his classes and taken notes, both ``clear violations of rules,″ Wright said in a memo.
Wright, who now runs tutoring programs for all students at Stephen F. Austin University in Texas, did not return a call seeking comment Monday.