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VOL. 41 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 15, 2017

Ex-UT football staffer pleads guilty to official misconduct charge

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KNOXVILLE (AP) — Former Tennessee director of football operations Chris Spognardi has pleaded guilty to a charge of official misconduct related to the handling of team travel expenses.

Spognardi worked at Tennessee the first three seasons of former coach Butch Jones' tenure, and his responsibilities included managing cash expenditures for team trips. The charge against Spognardi involved the fabrication of receipts from those trips.

His plea Thursday included a restitution order of over $14,000 to make up for money that was unaccounted for.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel first reported Spognardi's plea and said a sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 9.

Spognardi was placed on paid administrative leave in August 2016. Spognardi was fired December 2016 for what former athletic director Dave Hart termed as "gross misconduct."

Hart's termination letter to Spognardi said "this decision is based on information learned by the University's Office of Audit and Compliance."

Spognardi had been making $80,800.

"A part of Chris Spognardi's many duties at the University of Tennessee was the distributing of cash for per diem and expenses for bowl games and away games to coaches, players and staff," Spognardi's lawyer, Jeff Hagood, said in a statement after his client's plea. "It was not a good system. And Chris, by his own admission, did a poor job of reconciling and record keeping."

Hagood added that "Chris was a very well thought of director of operations for the University of Tennessee football team" and that "given an opportunity in the future, I think he will be successful."

Tennessee athletic department spokesman Tom Satkowiak said in a statement that the school is aware of the proceedings but has "no plans to comment on the matter before an official state report is issued."

Spognardi had worked directly with Jones at Central Michigan and Cincinnati before following him to Tennessee. Spognardi worked at Central Michigan first as a student assistant and later as a video coordinator. He started out at Cincinnati as an administrative coordinator and served as chief of staff in 2011 and 2012.

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More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25