If Bar Knoxville has been giving football players preferential treatment, the owners are now VIPs in a Tennessee internal investigation.
Early television and radio interviews given by the owners of the Cumberland Avenue club, hours after the brawl that produced arrests for two UT players, seemed to indicate they were supplying extra benefits by allowing them in without a cover charge, which could be an NCAA violation.
UT officials have already started looking into the matter and have requested a meeting with the business as part of the information-gathering process, athletic director Mike Hamilton confirmed late Friday night. There has been no exact time set yet according to Bar Knoxville co-owner Sandy Morton, but a critical part of the defense for both parties will be that the club waves the fee at the door for a list of "about 300 people."
The SEC office will not have anybody available to comment on the issue until Monday.
"It's really irritating because they're making us out to be the bad guys," Morton said. "We've got somewhere between 200 and 300 people that we consider VIPs that aren't athletes. All ladies are considered VIPs, which only means they don't have to pay a cover charge.
"The VIP is nothing that has anything to do with UT athletics."
That will be the main issue Hamilton and the UT compliance office will be looking at when it sits down with Morton, since granting the "VIP" treatment exclusively to athletes could create some trouble for the Vols with the NCAA. If the Vols were given a financial break others don't get - which Morton strongly denied - then UT would need to figure out how often it was used, how much it was worth and which players were taking advantage of it. From there, the players may have to pay some sort of restitution and UT may also need to self-report a secondary violation of NCAA rules for extra benefits.
According to NCAA Bylaw 184.108.40.206.3, "a student-athlete may not receive services (e.g., movie tickets, dinners, use of car) from commercial agencies (e.g., movie theaters, restaurants, car dealers) without charge or at reduced rates, or free or reduced-cost admission to professional athletics contests from professional sports organizations, unless such services also are available to the student body in general."
Assuming Bar Knoxville wasn't affording the general student population the same deal, Vols taking any VIP treatment will likely have been found to break that rule.
Morton indicated she had already been told her lengthy list of VIPs meant UT wasn't in danger of committing a violation, but either way the red carpet is about to be pulled out from under its athletes.
"When it comes to UT and the rules, I honestly didn't know anything about that being a violation - which I've been told is not in our case," Morton said. "But I've already told (Hamilton) all the players that were here are not welcome.
"And if we know they're athletes, we're done with that (VIP treatment)."
Until the matter is closed though, Bar Knoxville will still be on the guest list for UT officials.