No major penalties for Vols

The apartment of Tennessee football standouts Jesse Mahelona and Arron Sears got burned but they didn't.

The SEC office has ruled that neither player will miss any games this fall, although both have been investigated regarding potential violations of the so-called ''extra benefits'' rule.

Here's a brief recap:

A fire at an off-campus apartment being shared by Mahelona, Sears and walk-on tight end Brett Weyman on March 13 destroyed most of their furniture. Former Vol Jerry Colquitt mentioned the mishap to Johnny Presley, owner of Hale's Furniture Store of Crossville, suggesting he provide some replacement furniture and allow the players to repay the debt over time. Presley provided furniture worth a reported $5,483 with no money down on a ''12 months same as cash'' basis.

Upon learning of the arrangement, Tennessee officials took immediate action. They ordered the furniture repossessed and declared all three players ineligible, pending payment of a one-month rental fee on the furniture. UT brass came up with a figure of $287.52 for the temporary use of the furniture, so that amount was split among the players. Mahelona, Sears and Weyman ultimately paid $95.84 each. Each player also will serve 20 hours of community service and confess the error of his ways before Vol teammates. All three are now on a ''zero-tolerance'' policy regarding future rules violations.

In addition, compliance director Brad Bertani notified the SEC office, which has since ruled that the players will not face suspensions from any games. Reportedly, the SEC considers the violations ''secondary'' in nature. Still, the school has sent letters of warning to Colquitt (regarding contact with current UT athletes) and Presley (regarding not employing UT athletes).

Presley is not a UT graduate or a UT booster. He was a basketball season ticket-holder from 1998-2001 but has been quoted as saying the furniture deal was merely a favor to Colquitt. He told The Tennessean that the players were charged full price for the furniture and that the terms were ''the same deal I would do for anybody else.'' He added that he thought Tennessee's administration ''overreacted.''

According to Presley, Mahelona and Sears worked in his store on April 17 and April 29, for which he reduced their bill by $80. Moreover, he said the players were told the furniture would be repossessed if not paid for in full.

"If I were doing something illegal or trying to hide something, I certainly wouldn't have them working in the store," Presley told The Tennessean. "The guys had all intentions of paying it back. They were sincere."


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