Tennessee sent SEC letter in 2006 alleging UConn violations

Updated: April 25, 2008, 9:24 PM ET
By Shelley Smith | ESPN.com

The University of Tennessee alleges the Connecticut women's basketball program had a pattern of violating NCAA rules, including allowing former players to practice with the team on a regular basis, arranging a tour of ESPN for a highly touted recruit and permitting former players to serve as recruiters, according to a complaint Tennessee filed nearly two years ago but was released for the first time Friday.

Tennessee officials asked the Southeastern Conference in July 2006 to investigate the UConn program, alleging eight incidents involving as many as 11 NCAA rules violations may have taken place either at a 2005 event or over a period of years. Only one of the complaints has been confirmed as a violation. That involved a tour of ESPN by then-recruit Maya Moore, now a freshman at UConn.

ESPN had requested the Tennessee complaint in March under the Freedom of Information Act. Tennessee released the information Friday.

UConn released a statement Friday, saying: "The allegations received from the SEC produced only one highly publicized result. The NCAA and UConn both consider the matter closed and that has been shared with the SEC."

Tennessee athletic director Joan C. Cronan in a statement said, "We supplied the requested documents under the Freedom of Information act and have nothing further to add."

In a letter sent to SEC commissioner Mike Slive on July 27, 2006, Cronan said "from time to time we have encountered situations related to the University of Connecticut's women's basketball program that would seem to be a violation of the rules."

Six of the incidents allegedly came out of UConn's 2005 Super Show, an annual celebration of UConn women's basketball that routinely includes former and prospective players. The incidents are:

• UConn alums Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird served as recruiters for the team.

• The media interviewed the [recruiting] prospects at the practice.

• Fans had signs directed at the prospects, clearly aware who would be present.

• Fans gave prospects' parents the signs they had made for their daughters.

• Bird and Taurasi allegedly served as hostesses for the prospects.

•  A prospective student-athlete, whose name was not disclosed, told her AAU coach that Taurasi and Bird met her at the door upon arrival and escorted her to the coaches' office.

In addition to the incidents alleged from the Super Show, the letter confirms what ESPN's "Outside The Lines" reported in March. The complaint from Tennessee said a "prospective student athlete had a visit to ESPN -- arranged by UConn -- to talk about the possibility of an internship at ESPN. It appears as if no one at UConn provided transportation for the ESPN visit, but the prospective student-athlete did not know anyone at ESPN prior to the visit." "OTL" identified that recruit as then-high school junior Moore.

In March, "OTL" reported that the NCAA found UConn committed a secondary rules violation and that no penalty was assessed. Additionally, the Tennessee letter alleged:

"Reportedly former UConn players are allowed to practice with the team on a regular, rather than occasional basis … when asked about this issue, the UConn compliance staff has repeatedly either denied or failed to respond as to how this is allowed."

The Tennessee letter stated: "It would appear that the following NCAA Bylaws may have been violated," and cited 11 bylaws including "employment arrangement, offers and inducements and boosters involved in recruiting."

Other material released Friday under the Freedom of Information Act included 32 pages of what Tennessee said was "information that supports the belief that the fans and former elite student-athletes at Connecticut continue to be involved in the recruiting process," and a letter dated Nov. 14, 2006 from Donna C. Thomas, Tennessee's senior associate athletic director who is in charge of compliance, saying, "It would appear that the involvement of these individuals is outside the rules."

It is unclear if the NCAA found any of the alleged violations, outside of Moore's arranged visit to ESPN, to be valid. Calls to the SEC and NCAA offices were not immediately returned.

On Wednesday, UConn coach Geno Auriemma told reporters Tennessee coach Pat Summitt canceled the 12-year series between the two schools because Summitt accused the Huskies of "a recruiting violation."

"She accused us of cheating at recruiting," he said. "She doesn't have the courage to say it publicly. So yeah, Geno does know and I've said it."

Summitt canceled the series last summer saying Auriemma knew the reasons why, but wouldn't elaborate.

Shelley Smith is a Los Angeles-based reporter for ESPN television.

Shelley Smith

SportsCenter correspondent
Shelley Smith joined ESPN in January 1997 after working part-time as a reporter for the network since 1993. She has covered Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, the BCS championship game, the Stanley Cup playoffs, golf and tennis championships and more.

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