published Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Football team, hostesses focus of NCAA inquiries


by Wes Rucker
  • photo
    The 2008 University of Tennessee Orange Pride hosts.

KNOXVILLE -- There are many more questions than answers available in the early surfacing stages of the NCAA's ongoing review of University of Tennessee football recruiting practices.

College athletics' governing organization does not comment on ongoing investigations, but UT released a statement Wednesday afternoon confirming that "an NCAA review is underway."

"University administration and athletics are cooperating fully," the statement added.

UT has not admitted to self-reporting any violations in the matter, which indicates the NCAA opened its inquiry based on tips from outside sources.

The full scope of the NCAA's investigation isn't known, but a portion centers around the actions of multiple members of UT's Orange Pride student ambassador group, which helps host prospective student-athletes during their campus visits.

According to the New York Times, Orange Pride members traveled nearly 200 miles from Knoxville to a game at Byrnes High School in Duncan, S.C., a powerhouse prep program that has at least three seniors recruited heavily by the Volunteers. Two of those three players, highly regarded defensive lineman Brandon Willis and Corey Miller, have committed to UT.

The Times claimed Orange Pride members brought signs to the game, one of which read, "Come to Tennessee."

"I haven't seen no other schools do that," Byrnes tailback Marcus Lattimore, another UT-recruited prospect, told the Times. "It's crazy."

Gary Willis, Brandon's father, told the Times that UT coaches and staff did not orchestrate the trip.

"It was nothing planned on no one's part," he said.

Hostesses have boosted recruiting efforts for UT and several schools since before the 34-year-old Kiffin was born, but the Orange Pride members traveling to high school games three hours from Knoxville reportedly raised several eyebrows.

"We are concerned about the alleged activities of some members of the Orange Pride," UT's statement said. "Both university and NCAA guidelines are a part of the Orange Pride's orientation and training. If those guidelines were violated, we will take appropriate action. Because of federal student privacy regulations, we can't comment further.

"Orange Pride is one of three student admissions groups that serve as ambassadors for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Orange Pride's responsibilities include staffing university-wide admissions programs, providing campus tours, and hosting prospective athletes and their families. There are 75 students, both men and women, in the group. These ambassadors interact with hundreds of students across the campus."

Article: NCAA investigating UT football program

UTC doesn't use hostesses

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic department doesn't have a policy regarding the use of hostesses, athletic director Rick Hart said, because "we don't use them."

"I'm not even aware if we have access to any group like that on campus," Hart said.

Football coach Russ Huesman said he'd never considered using them and "never even thought that was something that was necessary."

Huesman was on the road recruiting in Atlanta on Wednesday and was unaware of the NCAA inquiry involving Tennessee. He said the closest thing UTC has to hostesses are the Mocs' coaches.

"We show them the school, we show them the facilities, we love 'em up, and if they're going to come to school because of some girl that's showing them around, then he's probably not the right guy," Huesman said. "I know people do it and that's all fine and dandy, but we don't walk around with a bunch of girls."

-- John Frierson

The Times' article said four UT recruits have already been questioned by the NCAA, and that at least two more will be interviewed in the near future. The NCAA could send UT an official notification of alleged violations if those interviews uncover any irregularities.

Brandon Willis told South Carolina recruiting analyst Phil Kornblut on Wednesday that he wasn't aware of any UT wrongdoing in the matter.

"Yeah, I've heard about it, but the things that happened weren't illegal," Willis said, according to Kornblut on www.goupstate.com. "We've already sat down and talked about it. We'll see what happens.

"Nothing that happened was inappropriate. Of course, they are going to investigate, because things like that happen. But, the things that happened, none of that was illegal."

Regardless of the Vols' coaching staff's knowledge of the Orange Pride trip, the program could be punished for allowing non-sanctioned UT personnel to recruit off campus -- which is a clear violation of NCAA rules.

UT reported six secondary recruiting violations during Kiffin's first six months on the job, but none have surfaced since June. The school has avoided major NCAA violations in the past, which several sources said could ease any punishments stemming from this situation.

Several UT officials, including Hamilton and interim president Jan Simek, declined to comment Wednesday. Messages left for Orange Pride officials were not returned.

Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.

about Wes Rucker...

Twitter - @wesrucker Facebook - /tfpvolsbeat

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Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
BlueRidgeGuy said...

I hope that the UT administration and fans now understand what we got in hiring Kiffin. How low will they let the program go before admitting their mistake. Now we understand why he was fired from his last job. I only hope that the program doesn't get the NCAA death penalty first!!!

December 10, 2009 at 8:49 p.m.
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