When he was at Marshall University, Tennessee associate athletic director for compliance Brad Bertani and his assistants would regularly canvass the town to remind local businesses about the illegalities and potential pitfalls that can arise from providing student-athletes with improper benefits.
In an area as populous as Knoxville, that's a little more difficult, but there are alternative ways to spread the word.
UT did that recently with a one-page letter it sent to all of the area's automobile dealerships. Outlined in the document, which the News Sentinel obtained from Garrett Motors, 8218 Chapman Hwy., are five things the dealers should completely avoid when the customer is a student-athlete.
The letter also came attached with a USA Today article that detailed Ohio State's recent car-related controversy, which brought on a wave of negative publicity and prompted an internal investigation.
"As part of The University of Tennessee's NCAA rules education efforts, the Compliance Office is reaching out to local car dealers to remind you of the potential dangers in running afoul with NCAA rules when dealing with student-athletes," the letter reads. "We want to ensure that your business does not receive unwanted attention due to a potential NCAA rules infraction."
In May, the Columbus Dispatch reported that eight Ohio State student-athletes and 11 athletes' relatives bought cars from Jack Maxton Chevrolet or Auto Direct in the past five years. A state probe concluded that there were no irregularities with the purchases, and the NCAA never charged Ohio State with any violations linked to the cars, but it certainly wasn't an ideal situation for the school's compliance department.
"We're, just in general, being proactive, kind of a cover-your-bases for all of your potential issues," Bertani said. "There wasn't anything stemming from a particular issue here or anything like that or a response to anything."
In the letter, UT reminds the dealers that student-athletes are not allowed to receive exclusive discounts, test drive automobiles "in a manner that is inconsistent with your normal business practices," receive special loan rates or be treated to free or discounted services. The dealers are also urged to scrutinize situations in which a non-family member is co-signing a loan and are encouraged to contact UT's compliance staff before entering into such an agreement.
In the month since the letter was distributed, Bertani said he's yet to hear any feedback from the dealerships.
UT is a little more than six months in to a two-year probation sentence, which it self-imposed before its NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing in June. Any misstep involving major NCAA violations could result in further, more severe punishment from college sports' governing body.
Attending meetings with local business owners, which the compliance department regularly does, and distributing letters like the one that surfaced Monday fall into the category of preventative maintenance.
"The goal," Bertani said, "is just to try and make them more aware of it."