Defense motions filed in case of former UT player accused of rape

The lawyer for former University of Tennessee football player A.J. Johnson filed numerous pre-trial motions, some of which are designed to shape the dialogue during and the basic nature of the trial.

Johnson (pictured) was dismissed from the team last November when he and another former player, Michael Williams, were accused of sexual assault. Both have been charged with four counts of aggravated rape – two based on each individual’s action and two for aiding and abetting the other.

Separate trial dates were set for the pair this week. Williams’ was set for Aug. 29 and Johnson’s for Sept. 24.

One motion filed by Johnson’s attorney, Stephen Ross Johnson, argues that the four charges are too many for what, if anything, was a single criminal act.

From the Knoxville News Sentinel:

Four separate allegations give the prosecution four chances to try to prove consent either was not given or was withdrawn.

Defense attorney Johnson also wants to bar both the state and the judge from calling the woman a victim and calling the alleged crime rape. Instead, he is asking Judge Bob McGee to order the state to refer to her as “a complaining witness, an accuser or by her name” and to use the state law code number in place of aggravated rape in his instructions to the jury.

“This would ensure that counsel for both sides are polite, proper and content neutral and that they are perceived to be so by the jury,” he wrote. “A jury instruction that refers to the individual as a victim may create a presumption that a criminal act, in fact, happened.”

Jul 23, 2015 6:13 AM

NCAA to formally charge Tyndall with rules violations

Former University of Tennessee basketball coach Donnie Tyndall formally will be charged with NCAA rules violations when a notice of allegations is sent to Southern Miss within the next week.

That, according to a report Wednesday.

UT fired Tyndall in March when it determined that the NCAA likely would find wrongdoing on the part of Tyndall during his two seasons as coach at Southern Miss. The 45-year-old replaced Cuonzo Martin in 2014 and coached the Volunteers for one season.

He is currently unemployed.

From the report:

Sources have told the NCAA will allege violations involving improper benefits and academic misconduct happened on Tyndall's watch. Southern Miss and Tyndall will then have an opportunity to contest whatever allegations they'd like to answer. Then the NCAA will eventually levy penalties, probably at some point in 2016.

Jul 22, 2015 1:34 PM

Tennessee to face Georgia Tech in second 2017 Chick-fil-A Kickoff

It won’t be the first game of the 2017 college football season.

It will be the first time in a long time that the University of Tennessee and Georgia Tech have played one another, however, and that will add excitement to the event that already is certain to draw interest.

Officials confirmed Monday that the Volunteers and Yellow Jackets would play in the second of two Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games in 2017.The teams, which last played more than three decades ago, will play a prime time contest Monday, Sept. 4 in Atlanta. ESPN will televise the game.

That contest will be two days after Alabama and Florida State play in the first iteration of the 2017 Kickoff Game. It will be the third time the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game conducts two contests on college football’s opening weekend.

“This will be the renewing of a long and beloved rivalry that's been off the board for far too long," Percy Vaughn, Peach Bowl, Inc. chairman said in a release. "And it's a great addition to the long-standing ACC vs. SEC rivalry games we have been able to put together.”

Tennessee and Georgia Tech will play at the Atlanta Falcons’ new stadium, which is set to open earlier in 2017.

Tickets for the contest will be divided equally between the participating schools and will be sold through their respective ticket offices.

“We are looking forward to and are very excited to open the 2017 season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta," UT coach Butch Jones said in a release. "It will be a great opportunity for our program to play in a new state-of-the-art facility while playing on a national stage. The state of Georgia is very important to us in recruiting footprint, and that coupled with our alumni base and passionate fans, will make for a very exciting experience."

Jul 20, 2015 9:59 AM

After nearly half a century UT All Sports Picnic remains a big draw

It’s not a traditional picnic in that it won’t draw flies. It takes place indoors, after all.

The 49th annual UT All-Sports Picnic presented by St. Thomas  – as usual – will draw a crowd, though.

Football coach Butch Jones and new men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes will be the featured attractions at the event, which takes place Tuesday at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena, is the country’s largest University of Tennessee alumni event.

Admission is $20 (cash or check) per person. Doors open at 5 p.m. Dinner, a silent auction and autograph signings will begin at 5:30 p.m. and the program starts at 7 p.m.

The UT All Sports Picnic benefits two endowed scholarships for students from Middle Tennessee who attend the University of Tennessee.

Jul 12, 2015 11:23 PM

Receivers among five UT players who did not receive bowl rings

Von Pearson and Vic Wharton have their memories of Tennessee’s victory in the TaxSlayer Bowl – and that’s about all.

The wide receivers each scored a touchdown as the Volunteers routed Iowa 45-28 on Jan. 2 but, according to a report by the Knoxville News Sentinel, neither received one of the commemorative rings given to players early last month.

Through an open records request, the newspaper obtained the ring distribution list and five players, including Pearson and Wharton, who were on the roster for that game were not included. According to the report, the university purchased 150 rings at a total cost of $26,250.

From the News Sentinel:

Pearson’s and Wharton’s names are two of the five players’ names that are redacted from the bowl ring distribution list obtained by the News Sentinel in a open records request. According to Tennessee spokesman Jason Yellin the players with names redacted did not receive rings. The other three are wide receiver Ryan Jenkins, defensive tackle Michael Sawyers and quarterback Mike Wegzyn.

The News Sentinel determined the names by comparing the bowl game roster to the ring distribution list.

All five players were on the roster for the game, but none of them are currently with the team.

Pearson has been suspended since April, when was named a suspect (he has not been charged) in a rape investigation. Sawyers was dismissed from the team in February and has a preliminary hearing Wednesday for a felony theft charge.

Wharton and Jenkins transferred and Wegzyn did not return to the program.

According to the list, three other players who also transferred after the bowl game received rings. Wide receiver Drae Bowles and linebacker Justin King, who both transferred to Chattanooga, are on the list, as is quarterback Nathan Peterman, who transferred to Pittsburgh.

Jul 6, 2015 5:05 AM

Tennessee debuts new uniforms to kick off apparel deal with Nike

It was Steve Jobs who once said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Presumably, Nike and the University of Tennessee kept that in mind during the university’s recent rebranding effort.

In order to unite the University of Tennessee under the ‘One Tennessee’ slogan, UT has rebranded its athletic uniforms, colors, logos, and word marks to create consistency. The partnership aimed to take UT into the next step of its brand evolution by not only honoring the school’s athletics history, pride, and tradition but also developing a fresher, modern identity across all of it athletic teams.

Wednesday, the first day of the apparel deal, the result of that philosophy was revealed when UT previewed the new uniforms for its athletics teams.

Starting next season the basketball, baseball, and softball teams will have their own smoky gray uniform options, something they did not have in the past. The alternate football uniform features the gray color scheme from head to toe.

Traditionally the UT helmet has been white but the new alternate uniform features an all gray helmet with the orange checkerboard running down the back. A prominent new feature to the new helmet is the silhouette of the Smoky Mountains on the back of the helmet.

The Power-T symbol now is the primary logo for all athletic teams excluding women’s basketball. The women’s basketball team will keep the Lady Vols lettering and logo.


UT wanted to incorporate tradition, community, history, and pride to create a more modern brand. In conjunction with Nike, it stuck to what worked traditionally with the uniforms and incorporated something new to draw in the younger crowd as well.

Of course, the ultimate test will be whether the uniforms work on the fields and courts. Any team looks good when it wins.



Jul 1, 2015 2:21 PM

Tickets for Tennessee-Virginia Tech game at Bristol moving full throttle

Ticket sales for football game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech, set for Sept. 10, 2016 at Bristol Motor Speedway remain brisk.

It’s not just the fans the teams that are buying them either.

Race fans also are eager to see one of that sport’s most unique venues transformed, according to a report Tuesday from the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Bristol Motor Speedway Executive Vice President Jerry Caldwell told the paper that sales to BMS season ticket holders have exceeded expectations. Wednesday, the next phase of the sale begins when anyone who attended a Sprint Cup or NHRA event this year can make a ticket deposit.

“Obviously, Tennessee fans and Virginia Tech fans are really enthusiastic and excited about this and they've been clamoring for tickets," Caldwell said, according to the News Sentinel. "But what's really blown me away is that we have some fans that are so enthusiastic that don't have an allegiance to one team over the other. They know this is going to be an epic event that people are going to be talking about 50 years from now. A lot of (BMS) season-ticket holders from other states — Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California — they want to be here for the event."

From the News Sentinel:

Tennessee sold out its 40,000 seat allotment by January of 2014 for the game scheduled for Sept. 10, 2016. Caldwell said Virginia Tech is ahead of schedule selling its 40,000 tickets.

Ticket sales to the general public will begin sometime next spring or summer. Caldwell estimates, though, that only a limited number of seats will remain at that point.

Jun 30, 2015 10:36 PM

Despite protests, UT proceeds with plan to rebrand women's teams

It was William Shakespeare who wrote: “What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Shakespeare clearly was not a fan of the University of Tennessee’s softball team. Or its volleyball team. Or any of the other women’s programs about to be called something different.

Those teams have a lot of supporters who think the pending change stinks.

On Wednesday all University of Tennessee women’s sports teams, with the exception of the women’s basketball team, will be known as the Volunteers. Only the women’s basketball team will continue as the Lady Vols and use the familiar logo, a tribute to former coach Pat Summit to reflect her legacy and continue its association with the program she built over her 38 years of coaching.

The name change was prompted by the school’s decision to switch apparel providers from Adidas to Nike. Nike conducted a branding audit for the University and recommended the school consolidate its logos and wording to create a better branding consistency.

The Power-T now will serve as the primary symbol for the school and its athletic program. Nike believed the use of Lady Vols divides the university and inhibits the goal of being united as “One Tennessee.” Nike also has faced some heat for the name change controversy prompting their consumer affairs department to respond stating, “Nike has no decision making capabilities whatsoever regarding the University’s choice to phase out the Lady Volunteers nickname for all women’s sports.”

Several dozen Lady Vols supporters protested the name change at the annual Board of trustees meeting on campus and circulated a petition to save the nickname, which gathered over 25,000 signatures. Fans and former players are not the only ones joining the fight to save the Lady Vols. Forty-five state lawmakers, including Tennessee Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville, wrote a letter to the school’s board of trustees urging them to reconsider the name change. A website was started by former UT volleyball player Leslie Cikara called The site posts letters from both former and current athletes urging the University to keep the Lady Volunteer name.

The university, though, has turned a deaf ear to all complaints and its athletics website is promoting the official launch of the rebranded athletics department, 11 a.m. (CDT) Wednesday.

Jun 30, 2015 12:11 PM

Current, former UT basketball coaches focused on what's ahead

University of Tennessee basketball coaches – former and present – discussed their current situations, disparate as they are, Monday.

Donnie Tyndall talked with a reporter about what comes next having been fired after one year on the job (he’s not sure). Rick Barnes, Tyndall’s replacement at UT, looked back on his 16 seasons at Texas with the Knoxville News Sentinel and the possibility that he might have been connected to academic fraud (he’s certain he did not).

Questions about Barnes surfaced earlier this month when The Chronicle of Higher Education published a report that alleged a series of academic incidents involving the men’s basketball players while Barnes coached there, including that a member of the 2013-14 team cheated on a test but was not punished for it.

Barnes told the News Sentinel that he thought the report had “no legs to it.”

“If I did make a statement, it would have been that I hate for everything that has happened here at University of Tennessee, for even something like that to pop up,” Barnes said. “But from where I stand, and where I sit and what I know, and the people that I'm close to back there, everyone said, ‘Hey, you know there's nothing to it. There's no legs to it. So why get involved?' And I'm not.’

Of course, what happened at UT was that athletics director Dave Hart had to fire Tyndall earlier this year because of NCAA violations Tyndall and his staff committed while at Southern Miss.

Since then Tyndall has not stepped away from basketball to regroup. Far from it, in fact.

According to the report, he has strengthened his network of contacts within the game and has talked to coaches in the NBA and colleges as well as college athletics directors. He said all have been encouraging, none more so than another former UT coach, Bruce Pearl.

“The biggest thing he said was, 'Donnie, I know you're sitting there thinking your career is over and you'll never coach again; I had the exact same thoughts,’” Tyndall recalled. “‘But I'm telling you, you'll be back.' That's the best thing he told me. He told me I'll be back.”

That is certainly his goal.That and a national championship.

"I was the youngest head coach in the SEC last season," Tyndall said. "So I'm not giving up on my hopes and dreams. My dream has always been to play on a Monday night and win a national title, and that's still my dream. So people may say I'm delusional. But my dream is still to get back into coaching and coach on that Monday night."

Jun 30, 2015 6:38 AM

Manning likes what Butch Jones has to say about UT, how he says it

Butch Jones’ message has been consistent from the moment he took over the University of Tennessee’s football program.

Peyton Manning believes that Jones’ current attitude speaks volumes, though, about the third-year coach’s belief that the best is yet to come.

The NFL’s all-time leading passer and former UT great was in Knoxville on Monday for the Peyton Manning Golf Classic, which benefits both the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and the PeyBack Foundation for disadvantaged youth. There, he addressed the media and said he sees a difference in Jones when the two speak these days.

From the Knoxville News Sentinel:

“I can tell he’s excited,” Manning said. “Butch Jones is excited when he talks to me about his team, about the recruits coming in. He’s always had that passion in his voice, but you can really hear it now when he’s talking. He’s excited. He’s determined to get Tennessee football back to where it belongs and where it should be. I believe he’s the guy to get us there.”

According to the newspaper, Manning also will “present four full scholarships to the Manning Scholars, and will be part of a ceremony unveiling the Gus Manning Gate at Gate 16 at Neyland Stadium, honoring the long-time UT administrator” while he is on campus.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Jun 22, 2015 1:54 PM