Tennessee running back Bryce Brown, most-wanted teenage diva of the class of d2009, was already unlikely for today's practice thanks to the mysterious hip injury he suffered on Monday. Even if the hyped freshman was completely healthy, though, we learned today that there's a good chance he won't be seeing the field for a while anyway, thanks to the NCAA's sudden interest in -- surprise! -- a possible recruiting violation:
At issue is Brown's amateur status as a high school athlete, a person familiar with the investigation told the Associated Press. The NCAA is reviewing whether money was raised for Brown to visit colleges during his sophomore year. Tennessee was not recruiting Brown then, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
"I think it's a gigantic distraction. I think it's very unfortunate," Kiffin said in announcing the investigation after Tuesday's practice.
Among the early-breaking reports, only the account from VolQuest.com ($) mentions the elephant in the room: "At the heart of the matter is Brown's relationship with his advisor, Brian Butler." Of course it does. Anyone remotely familiar with Brown's recruitment -- or that of his brother, Arthur, a linebacker in Miami -- remembers Butler as the self-proclaimed "trainer" and unofficial agent who was convincingly portrayed as a fly-by-night opportunist by the New York Times in February and came under the NCAA's scrutiny later that month, as Brown's drawn-out recruitment began to stretch to epic lengths. Butler told the Times then "we've kept everything 100 percent legit," which may be almost right -- as potential violations go, scrounging for money to take campus visits before schools were even allowed to extend "official" offers is pretty low on the totem pole unless he was ordering up the full Reggie Bush weekend in the process, which seems unlikely even for the most hyped 16-year-old. Still, a violation is a violation and the eligibility of the most sought-after freshman in the country is at stake.
For the moment Brown remains eligible; whether that will still be true by the time Tennessee kicks off against Western Kentucky on Sept. 5 is in the air. Until he's officially cleared, though, the specter of potential forfeits of any games he participates in will loom too large to expect him on the field. Until the cloud passes -- or drops whatever thunder and lightning it builds up during the investigation -- this Cadillac is remaining under wraps.