Alert Tennessee television stations dispatched cameramen in time to catch Tennessee players Da'Rick Rogers and Darren Myles on their way out of the Knox County detention facility this morning, just a few hours after their early-morning arrests for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest (Rogers) and assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and public intoxication (Myles), respectively. They do not look anxious for the attention:
But local paparazzi are the least of the Vols' problems in the wake of a wild bar brawl that sent two people to the hospital and specifically implicates at least six UT players. Besides Rogers and Myles, police records show three other players – receivers Matthew Milton and Denarius Moore and defensive tackle John Brown, a one-time Florida signee – have been questioned (though not charge) in the severe beating of an off-duty Knoxville police officer who tried to intervene in an apparent seven-on-one assault inside the club and was later found laying unconscious in the street. Defensive tackle Montori Hughes was questioned about the barstool-wielding brawl inside.
Early reports said the officer was being treated for a head wound, and later word this morning suggested his injuries may be pretty serious. The officer was reportedly in stable condition in the emergency room this afternoon. The name and status of the man beaten inside the club, who was also hospitalized, is still being withheld.
As concerns go in this case, obviously the NCAA rule book is at the bottom of the list. But as police try to sort out the charges, the Tennessee compliance office may be forced to sort out the arrangement between the owners of Bar Knoxville and UT athletes, who apparently got in free based on their "VIP status." If so, according to the anonymous compliance pro who unravels NCAA rules on the Bylaw Blog, that's a pretty heavy violation:
Statements from the bar owner like the fact that "all" of the UT student-athletes visited the bar and at least some were on a first-name basis with the owner (meaning they were presumably regulars) means the total value of the benefits could be up into the thousands of dollars even if the benefit was only $2 to $5 a pop. The key issue will be time and how far back UT can find evidence of the extra benefits.
If this has been going on for longer than just this summer or involves more than the handful of student-athletes who got into the brawl last night, UT is likely looking at a major violation. As far as major violations go, it wouldn’t be one of the worst, but no major violation is anything to sneeze at. Penalties might be a loss of a couple scholarships, vacation of any wins the involved student-athletes participated in, and repayment of the impermissible benefits to charity.
Of course, getting in free to a few local clubs is one of the many "perks" athletes are assumed to enjoy pretty much everywhere; Tennessee just happens to be staring at the consequences because an angry bar owner came right out with it to reporters. (For the record, the same owner said UT basketball players can still enjoy "VIP status" at Bar Knoxville, if they dare. The privilege for football players has been officially rescinded.) Given the untenable scope and solar systems of paperwork involved if the NCAA ever tried to enforce that rule with any kind of consistency, it's safe to assume Tennessee will be grumbling about the injustice all the way to the Infractions Committee. Once there, though, the Vols should really hope that they don't find their head on a stake as a warning to others.