New Amsterdam Bar and Grill
1836 Cumberland Avenue
Housing one of the largest dance floors in Knoxville, New Amsterdam is a two-story club featuring 3 bars, one central 360-degree bar upstairs, and a full-service drink and dining menu. DJ dance parties and live music shows every weekend. Located ...More about New Amsterdam Bar and Grill »
Tennessee men's basketball player Renaldo Woolridge and two of his friends were granted exclusive and free access to a portion of a Cumberland Avenue bar early Sunday morning to shoot a music video, an arrangement that could constitute an NCAA violation.
Eight hours after the Vols' 72-61 loss at No. 8 Connecticut on Saturday, Woolridge and his friends occupied an upstairs portion of New Amsterdam Bar and Grill, 1836 Cumberland Ave., to shoot a music video, multiple people confirmed to the News Sentinel.
The Tennessee athletic department, citing information obtained during an afternoon investigation Monday that involved interviews with the bar's owner and general manager, along with Woolridge and two other students, concluded that no NCAA violation occurred, UT associate athletic director for communications Jimmy Stanton said.
According to NCAA bylaw 126.96.36.199.6, student-athletes are not permitted to receive preferential treatment, benefits or services "because of the individual's athletics reputation or skill or pay-back potential as a professional athlete, unless such treatment, benefits or services are specifically permitted under NCAA legislation."
Multiple eyewitnesses, including Raed “Ryan” Zekry, who identified himself to a News Sentinel representative as an owner of the bar, said Woolridge spent an hour shooting a music video in a reserved portion of the two-story bar.
Zekry, who originally asked not to be identified because the publicity may hurt the bar, told the News Sentinel on Sunday that Woolridge "shot the video to support UT."
"It was given to him by the New Amsterdam for free because we do support him and UT sports in general," Zekry said.
Stanton said UT's investigation concluded that Woolridge and his friends were only there to snap photographs, and that no portion of the bar was closed off to the public.
They were given the same access that other student groups have received in the past, which would not constitute an NCAA violation for improper benefits, Stanton said.
"There wasn't a sign or any security saying it was for private use," Stanton told the Associated Press in a separate interview.
Grant Ramey, a freelance reporter for the News Sentinel who was at the bar to cover the event, said the upstairs area where Woolridge and his friends were located was blocked off by two chairs and a man serving as a bouncer.
Katie Leone, a bartender who has worked at New Amsterdam for six years, also confirmed that the area was blocked off. Leone also is employed as a part-time copy editor at the News Sentinel.
Woolridge, 20, declined to comment when approached by Ramey, who gained access to the area after he asked Zekry to arrange an interview.
Zekry asked Woolridge and his friends if Ramey was "with them" before escorting him out of the area, Ramey said.
Ramey said Woolridge, two friends and three women were "definitely" shooting a video and the area only opened an hour later when the group was finishing. Leone also confirmed this account.
A second New Amsterdam employee, who requested anonymity because the person was fearful of losing employment, confirmed all the details of Leone's and Ramey's accounts.
The cost of the room Woolridge occupied for an hour before it opened to the general public can range anywhere from free to as much as $2,000 for an evening, Leone said. The space has also been made available for free to campus groups such as Habitat for Humanity and Volunteers for Ethiopian Orphans, Leone said.
Leone, who was working the area reserved for Woolridge on Saturday night, said the bar promoted Woolridge's video shoot throughout its busiest hours Friday night and into Saturday morning.
The UT men's basketball team is one of three programs at the university - along with football and baseball - that is currently under investigation by the NCAA. The UT athletic department announced that it received a Letter of Inquiry from the NCAA in October and is expected to receive the findings as early as the end of January or February.
A number of UT men's basketball players violated the NCAA's improper benefits rule when they received free admission on Thursday nights to Bar Knoxville, 1820 Cumberland Ave., between May and July 9, 2010. Because none of the student-athletes received more than $100 in benefits, they were briefly declared ineligible until they paid back their share to a charity.
Men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl and football coach Derek Dooley have since banned their players from attending Bar Knoxville, which also was the site of a well-documented brawl involving football players and an undercover police officer last July. The bar recently changed its name to Rumorz.
Recent cases of improper benefits in college basketball that went above $100 have resulted in suspensions. Kansas State's Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly were suspended in December for three and six games, respectively, for receiving improper discounts from a local clothing store.
Jacques Smith, a freshman defensive end on the football team, was arrested Oct. 31 at New Amsterdam after a fight with a patron. Smith pleaded guilty on a simple assault charge, but he will have the transgression dropped from his record in a year if he adheres to his judicial diversion.
Woolridge has averaged nine minutes per game in eight games this season. He did not dress in UT's loss to Connecticut on Saturday because of an ankle injury and was not made available to the media after Monday's practice.
On his official website, Woolridge, in a video blog shot during the team's flight Thursday night to Connecticut, promoted the impending production of a video for his latest single, "Snap Back." Woolridge has filmed a number of rap videos since arriving at UT in 2008, including a university-sponsored promotion during former football player Eric Berry's Heisman trophy campaign in 2009.
"I'm very supportive of Renaldo as a student and very supportive of him in his major in film and communications, and he particularly has a very unique talent," Pearl said at his weekly media luncheon Monday. "When I say that, we're encouraging him to be the best he can be in both pursuits, academically as well as basketball.
"There are certain times of the year where it's more appropriate to focus the vast majority of his energy to that in the season and probably we'll visit with him a little bit on that. There's a balance; there's got to be a balance there."