- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart takes exception to suggestions that his department has ever interfered when athletes face discipline from campus officials.

Former vice chancellor for student life Tim Rogers said the athletic department in 2013 pressured officials in charge of campus discipline to be lenient on student-athletes in a memo obtained by The Tennessean. Rogers left his position in the summer of 2013, citing an “intolerable situation.”

“There’s simply no truth to that,” Hart said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I want to be very candid about that.”

Hart also said the school has increased its efforts to educate student-athletes about sexual assault, alcohol and drugs by bringing in guest speakers on those various topics. Hart said that the school had brought in these types of speakers before but that it’s now increasing the frequency of those programs.

The increased efforts come as former Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson and suspended defensive back Michael Williams face charges of aggravated rape, stemming from an incident last November in a Knoxville apartment. Former Tennessee defensive back Riyahd Jones also is the subject of an ongoing rape investigation in which no charges have been filed, though the woman said the incident happened after Jones had left the team.

“We’re going to continue to step that up,” Hart said. “i feel like we’re certainly obligated to do so, to maximize the education and the prevention of poor decisions. That’s early what we’re talking about.”

Hart also indicated he had no regrets about the way he has handled the phasing out of the Lady Vols nickname for all women’s sports other than basketball and that he hasn’t heard from the NCAA regarding a timetable on the investigation of men’s basketball coach Donnie Tyndall’s tenure at Southern Mississippi.

Tennessee announced in November that all its women’s teams other than the basketball squad would be nicknamed the Volunteers and would adopt the “Power T” logo used by the men’s teams starting in 2015-16, a move that coincides with the school’s switch to Nike as its apparel provider. Tennessee officials said they made the move in an attempt at branding consistency.

The move has drawn criticism that has included a protest before a Tennessee women’s basketball game in December that drew about 100 fans. A website has also been created (bringbacktheladyvols.com) that includes about 30 letters from former Lady Vols and three former Tennessee football players.

Hart said he met with all the women’s coaches and teams beforehand and “a high percentage of our people bought in from the outset,” though he acknowledged the move didn’t have unanimous approval.

“I do understand the passion,” Hart said. “I love the passion of our fan base. That’s part of the passion. . We have a very passionate fan base, so no, (the criticism) has not been a surprise, and it’s not been offensive, in terms of the masses who might feel that way.”

Hart praised the performance of Tyndall, who led Tennessee to a 16-16 record in his debut season while dealing with an NCAA investigation into his tenure at Southern Mississippi. Hart had no update on the status of that investigation.

“I thought he handled that extremely well,” Hart said. “I don’t think Donnie allowed that to affect the team, nor did he allow it to affect the job that he had to do. Donnie not only has done a good job here as the basketball coach, he’s proved to be a good fit. He’s connected with our community. He and his wife do a good job with the community, do that willingly and enthusiastically. From those two perspectives, I think he’s been very, very good.”

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