The NCAA on Wednesday ruled that Tennessee’s heralded running back signee Bryce Brown will not face any punishment for his involvement in funded trips to college campuses while he was a high school sophomore.
“The best news of the day is Bryce Brown has been cleared,” coach Lane Kiffin told reporters after Tennessee’s practice Wednesday. Kiffin got the news from athletics director Mike Hamilton during the middle of practice, then informed Brown and the rest of the team a short time later. The team let out a mighty cheer at the news, according to the Knoxville News Sentinal.
“I think that that’s a heck of a deal by the NCAA to get it done right and get it done with a sense of urgency, so we’re very grateful for that,” Kiffin said.
Brown, considered the No. 1 recruit in the country in the Class of 2009, drew the attention of NCAA investigators because of his involvement with Brian Butler, an “adviser” or “handler” who allegedly shopped Brown and other recruits to potential colleges. At one point, Butler was charging money for recruiting updates on Brown and other players he represented on his website, PotentialPlayers.com. He was urged by schools recruiting Brown to stop charging for the information and eventually made it free. The NCAA has been investigating Butler and his relationship with Brown since Febraury.
According to an NCAA investigator that spoke to ESPN.com, Butler raised money during Brown’s sophomore season at Wichita (Kan.) East High School to take the running back and other potential Division I signees on a tour of schools in the South and Southwest. Georgia was included on that itinerary, along with Florida, Florida State, Ole Miss, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
According to Kiffin, Brown was facing a possible NCAA-mandated suspension of up to four games and the prospect of having to repay the money for the trips, which could have been in the thousands.
“By no means was it something that Bryce was doing knowingly that would be wrong,” Kiffin told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “He was just part of the group and was actually younger than most of the other guys (taking the trips). . . . People or towns assist players as they grow up.”
Georgia, it should be noted, was hit with NCAA probation in the mid-1990s in part for its involvement with a South Florida man named Dan Calloway who allegedly funded trips to Athens and other campuses for potential recruits.
The NCAA’s decision to waive any punishment for Brown is significant. The 6-foot, 215-pound tailback has been one of the Vols’ most impressive players in camp.