ESPN Announcers Makes Unsubstantiated PED Claim About Tennessee Catcher

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Tennessee catcher Evan Russell missed the Vols’ NCAA Tournament opening win over Alabama State due to sickness, according to fifth-year head coach Tony Vitello.

“We’ll give it some time to figure out what’s going on because I have to get with Dr. (Chris) Klenck, but obviously Evan Russell was not here,” Vitello said postgame. “He was sick this morning. I got a message from him.”

Tennessee announced that Russell would be unavailable just over 60 minutes before first pitch but didn’t announce a reason leading to speculation. The ESPN announcers for the Oklahoma State versus Missouri State matchup reported unsubstantiated rumors that Russell tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, suspending him from the tournament.

“They lost their starting catcher,” play-by-play announcer Lowell Galindo said.

“It was pretty crazy, failed a drug test so Evan Russell is suspended for the rest of the season, so Tennessee is going to have the whole rest of the team tested tomorrow, or the NCAA is. So it’s going to be interesting to see if that’s just a one player thing or throughout that whole entire program. Performance enhancing drugs is what it was said,” former Arkansas outfielder and ESPN color commentator Troy Eklund said.

The statements are riddled with inaccuracies.

Vitello’s statement denies the accusation as do Tennessee’s actions. Russell is on Tennessee’s 27-man active roster this weekend. These rosters are submitted roughly 30-90 minutes before the start of a weekend series — or tournament in this case.

More From RTI: What Tony Vitello Said About Evan Russell’s Absence

Tennessee was aware Russell wouldn’t be available for Friday night when they submitted their active roster. Emergency catchers Ryan Miller and Nathan Smith were not active for the Knoxville Regional, giving the Vols just Charlie Taylor and a banged up Jared Dickey as its active catchers while Russell is unavailable.

There has been no substantial reporting that the NCAA plans to drug test Tennessee, as Eklund indicated, or that link Russell to testing positive for PEDs.

“Evan Russell’s absence last night had nothing to do with any violation of team, NCAA or SEC rules. We have been in contact with ESPN and they are aware of the situation regarding last nights comments made on their broadcast. ESPN is handling the situation and we are expecting a public apology from them later today,” a Tennessee spokesperson said in a statement Saturday morning.

The announcers later relayed Vitello’s message that Russell was sick adding “so there are reports and speculation out on what the actual issue is but per the head coach in his postgame press conference ‘sick’. We know this, did not play against Alabama State.”

Eklund apologized for his false reporting during the second inning of Missouri State versus Grand Canyon’s matchup Saturday afternoon.

Vitello didn’t provide a definitive answer on the Vols’ starting catcher’s availability against Campbell.

Evan Russell’s father — Jason — made a Facebook post addressing Evan’s absence and his sister Madeline tweeted a screenshot of the message Friday night.

Jason tweeted another update early Saturday morning, saying that Evan will go through physical/examination ahead of the Campbell game.

Russell will be available and is expected to play for Tennessee in its second matchup of the tournament against Campbell, sources told RTI Saturday morning.

Tennessee returns to Lindsey Nelson Stadium at 7 p.m. ET Saturday against three-seed Campbell. The winner advances to the Knoxville Regional championship while the loser will face the winner of Saturday afternoon’s matchup between No. 2 Georgia Tech and No. 4 Alabama State.

SEC Pitcher of the Year Chase Dollander is starting for Tennessee against the Fighting Camels.

Ryan Schumpert is a senior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. He just completed a three-year stint with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent last three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Did we leave out the part about Ryan interning for the Smokies? Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three of the reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.