In a shocking development Saturday morning prior to Tennessee’s regular season-finale against No. 5 Texas A&M, the Vols announced that Eric Gray would not be available to play against the Aggies.
While it was disappointing news, most Vol fans didn’t read too much into the development simply because it’s 2020 and this year, those developments tend to be COVID related.
But it wasn’t COVID related. As the the Vols and Aggies kicked off, word trickled out in a report that Tennessee’s football program was under NCAA investigation. The alleged violations involve current Tennessee players along with recruits. There are multiple assistant coaches, staffers and players who have been questioned as part of the investigation. One report specifically named inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer.
Gray was not specifically named like Niedermeyer, but Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt failed to give much of an answer when asked why Gray did not play.
“He was unavailable,” Pruitt responded when asked by a reporter as to why Gray did not play.
Another reporter followed up with a question asking why Gray was unavailable.
“You know, the entire year,” Pruitt explained. “When it’s come to our guys with injury to COVID or for whatever reasons, we’ve always said they’re unavailable.”
A third reporter took a stab at trying to find out why Gray did not play against the Aggies. The third and final question was a pointed one. Pruitt was asked directly if Gray or any other players were unavailable due to compliance issues.
“Guys, I’ve already addressed that one time,” Pruitt said adamantly.
Gray was a huge loss for the Vols against a Texas A&M team that is one of the best in college football at stopping the run defensively. Despite his absence against the Aggies, Gray finished the season as Tennessee’s leading-rusher by more than 300 yards. The sophomore running back finished the regular season with 772 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 157 carries.
Senior Ty Chandler was responsible for filling Gray’s shoes against A&M. He rushed for 31 yards on seven carries as Tennessee struggled to run the football.
It’s unclear whether or not the Vols’ season has concluded following the loss to the Aggies. We’ll likely hear Sunday whether or not Tennessee will be participating in a bowl game.