Wiedmer: Kiffin running short of good will with NCAA

Wiedmer: Kiffin running short of good will with NCAA

December 10th, 2009 by Mark Wiedmer in Blogsutugautc

Too bad Tiger Woods wasn't born 15 years later and isn't the nation's top prep quarterback prospect rather than the world's best golfer.

Can you imagine anyone other than the University of Tennessee signing Woods after Vols coach Lane Kiffin unleashed his recruiting hostesses on Tiger?

Two words: Game over.

Unfortunately, Woods is out of eligibility and if his football throws are as errant as his driving, he wouldn't have helped the Vols much anyway.

But in the real world Kiffin's latest brush with NCAA rules over when, where and how to use hostesses for recruiting could earn the Vols far more than their customary "Bad-bad-boy, please-don't-do-this-again" reprimand.

If - as a Wednesday morning New York Times article suggests - these hostesses who ventured to a South Carolina high school football game where three UT recruits were playing are indeed found to represent the university, then Kiffin may finally have a major violation to go with his six secondary infractions to date.

Beyond that, for all you Volniacs who've chuckled the past year over Kiffin's ability to get under rival SEC coaches' skin with his taunting and trash-talking, a word of caution is in order.

All schools break rules, even when trying to abide by them. Within the SEC and most other conferences, an opposing coach who genuinely believes his league brother made an honest mistake will often call the coach and ask him not to do it again.

Kiffin's past behavior is going to ensure he gets no such calls. Those calls are going to the NCAA or a media outlet, which will basically guarantee the NCAA will be forced to become involved anyway.

So, Big Orange Nation, if this trend continues and you wind up on probation at a later date as much for revenge as justice, how will you like your loud-mouthed coach then?

This is in no way to say that Kiffin's crew will get anything more than a slap on the wrist for this incident, even if it comes in the form of some pseudo probation. No bowls will be banned. No television time lost. No championships denied.

It's even doubtful a scholarship or two would be taken away, since none of these players has yet signed.

Yet this also isn't to say the Vols are completely home free on this one, either. In fact, they may be already have themselves in something of a Catch-22.

At issue is whether or not these hostesses - who are officially part of UT's Orange Pride student ambassador group, and thus a part of the university - acted with or without the knowledge of the coaching staff in particular and the school in general.

UT's initial defense seems to be that these girls acted on their own, telling the three James F. Byrnes High players during a UT summer camp that they would love to come watch them play one night. They then made good on their promise, apparently carrying signs "Come to Tennessee," to the game.

Two of those players - Brandon Willis and Corey Miller - have verbally committed to UT. The third - highly recruited running back Marcus Lattimore - has crossed the Vols off his list.

Tennessee's problem is that if the coaching staff knew about the trip then they also knew they were breaking a pretty significant NCAA rule, since only certain designated coaches can make contact with a recruit off campus. And if the girls truly didn't know, then the school was guilty of not informing them of the rules, despite the fact that it says it always briefs any Orange Pride rep on recruiting dos and don'ts.

So what could happen? The worst case scenario for the Vols would be the NCAA banning the Vols from signing any player that had been visited by one of its hostesses. In truth, if the NCAA really wanted to clean up recruiting, that would be the penalty most of the time. And if that were the case, violations would stop immediately.

But the more likely scenario is the aforementioned probation, in which any repeat of these violations will result in a far more serious penalty.

Either way, one can't help but wonder if Kiffin still believes, as he did last winter, that all publicity is good publicity.

During an interview with a national television network, he said of a certain unflattering news spot, "They even put our logo on it ... and we didn't have to pay for it."

At least not yet.