KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Tennessee Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart faced the media today, addressing the allegations of sexual assault levied against the Tennessee Athletics Department and admitting that the allegations against the Tennessee football team are an issue.
“Obviously, I think we’re concerned. I think one is too many,” he said.
It was the second news conference in one week for the University of Tennessee. Thursday’s press conference was a much different tone than Tuesday when 16 varsity head coaches at the University of Tennessee addressed the media. The press conference kicked-off with Hart saying couldn’t answer any questions about the sexual assault lawsuit filed against the school, but that didn’t stop him from addressing some of the claims in it on his own.
“Athletics plays no role in investigative processes,” said Hart. “We don’t engage in the investigations that take place, be they with law enforcement or student conduct. That’s not our role. Other people have been designated to those roles.”
While Hart maintained that the school consistently handles misconduct the way that it should, interference with investigations and the legal process is a key accusation in the lawsuit and he is at the center of it. A lawsuit filed against the University of Tennessee says after Hart was hired in 2011 football player Darick Rogers was accused of sexual assault and Hart’s department interviewed witnesses and football players who “got their stories straight” before taking the case to student conduct.
Hart also said that coaches and staff don’t interact with the investigative process. Instead, there is one liaison who handles communication. However, the amended lawsuit also adds that University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek asks to be briefed on case facts before he appoints hearing judges, while accusing administrators and the athletic department of covering up sexual assaults to preserve player eligibility.
The athletics director said he trusts University of Tennessee Head Coach Butch Jones “implicitly” and said he feels the university is adequately addressing sexual assault on campus.
“Every time we have had an issue, every time someone has made a poor choice, and I use Butch as an example,” said Hart. “He has immediately disciplined them. They have been immediately suspended. They know there are consequences.”
Hart not concerned about job
On outside criticism about how Hart handles the athletics department, he said he believes the accusations are not accurate. Hart has come under fire before, most recently for his hiring and subsequent firing of basketball Coach Donnie Tyndall, as well as the Lady Vols name change controversy.
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“There are some unhappy people that don’t have anything to do with this or what we are talking about,” said Hart. ” I want to make that clear. We have a handful of former employees who are very unhappy.”
Hart said he doesn’t have any concerns for his job security. He remained firm when asked about his feelings ho his job security saying he and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek are on the same page.
“he’s right where I am on this topic,” We’ve got to do more. We’ve got to do better, everybody on our campus.”
Absence from Tuesday’s press conference
Hart, who was criticized for being noticeably absent, said he was in a meeting with Chancellor Jimmy Cheeck, campus council and outside council, but said he is standing by his actions, the coaches and the university.
“I wasn’t in town, but if I had been in town, I wouldn’t have been at the press conference,” said Hart. “That was the coaches request. They wanted that forum to express what they see every day.”
He also defended and applauded coaches for their role in sexual assault cases. He said they are focused on the topic and educating their players, stressing the university cares deeply about not only its student athletes, but also there student body.
“It is all of our ability to address what is a national problem. That has been our intent and will remain our intent,” said Hart. “Guilty parties should be immediately dealt with and prosecuted.’
Continuing coverage: Sexual assault at the University of Tennessee