Well, this Tennessee story just keeps better and better, doesn’t it?
I’m not sure how many of you caught the latest updates over the weekend. If not, I’ll catch you up this morning.
When last we left the story, the players and coaches at Byrnes High in Duncan, S.C., were telling everybody how, yes, they did see the infamous Tennessee hostesses holding up signs in the crowd at their game back in September. But, they insisted, they made sure they didn’t talk to them or interact with them in any way.
That prompted my old friend Andy Staples, recruiting analyst for SI.com (I first knew him as an AJC intern, then the Gators’ beat guy from Tampa) to go back and look at his camera. Andy recalled being at the game in question to get some advance material for Byrnes’ monumental, nationally-televised matchup against St. Thomas Aquinas down in Fort Lauderdale the following week. He vaguely recalled seeing some oddly over-dressed girls on the field after the game. And sure enough, there it was in 3.3 megapixels: Vols commitments Corey Miller and Brandon Willis posing for pictures with UT hostesses Lacey Earps and Dahra Johnson as they talked and interacted on the field after the game (click link to see for yourself).
So what’s the big deal, you ask? Well, at the least it proves yet another secondary violation for the Vols. That’d be number seven for football in the last year if you’re keeping count, and the SEC is. It violates NCAA rules regarding contact with a representative of the school’s athletics interest. But that’s just the beginning.
As reported last week, Byrnes coach Chris Miller said he called Tennessee assistant coach David Reaves to inform Tennessee of his players’ encounter with the roadie-hostesses. But so far there has been no evidence that the Vols forwarded that information on to the SEC, which is again a violation. Now you’re starting to get into the area of “institutional control.” And those are two scary words in the world of NCAA compliance.
Meanwhile, the New York Times, which broke the initial story about the Vols’ alleged misuse of recruiting hostesses, uncovered another problem in its latest update of the ongoing NCAA investigation. We learn that Steve Rubio, a “recruiting intern” for Tennessee, flew with coach Lane Kiffin from Knoxville to Fort Lauderdale to visit coaches and prospects at St. Thomas Aquinas this fall. Rubio, who played football at Aquinas while in high school, is not permitted to recruit for the Vols. But, by Kiffin’s own admission, Rubio accompanied him into the school. Asked if Rubio talked to any recruits while there, Kiffin said to another media outlet, “not that I know of.”
Again, you ask, what’s the big deal? Well, it’s Kiffin’s job to know such things. And not then, but beforehand. College coaches, especially those in the SEC, are expected to check out such scenarios before the fact. That’s why these schools pay substantial salaries for “compliance directors” and their many assistants. The general rule in compliance is, “if you’re not sure if something is permissible, ask to be sure.” And then if you can’t reach anybody to tell you, “don’t do it.”
Yet continually Kiffin seems to subscribe to the philosophy of ask forgiveness, not permission.
What I think is ultimately going to cause Kiffin problems is his arrogance. With all this heat flaring up all around (two assistants left his staff last week, too), Kiffin has had the gall to say that all the NCAA scrutiny actually is a compliment to the Vols’ recruiting prowess under his leadership.
After this past Saturday’s practice, Kiffin told reporters:
“I think when it comes to recruiting, we’re at the highest level, and I think that people really want to know what we’re doing. They want to know how are we able to get interest from so many great players, and sign so many great players, so I think you have a lot of people coming at us.”
In a slightly different interpretation in GoVolsXtra.com, Kiffin said:
“I know that we’ve done a phenomenal job in recruiting. I know that it’s very competitive around the country with the kids that we go after and within this conference. I think that anytime you’re operating at the level we’re operating at in recruiting, people are going to come after us. . . . People will always try to take shots at us, they’ll always try to bring us down. But it won’t matter.”
That just tells me Kiffin doesn’t get it. Or at least he wasn’t listening.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive addressed the perception that secondary violations were nitpicky and no big deal at SEC Football Media Days back in July in Birmingham and warned that multiple offenders could expect more severe repercussions.
“As we told our coaches earlier this week in our SEC new coaches orientation program, any time they commit a secondary violation, they place themselves, their program, and the institution and the prospect at risk. The risk may be lost recruiting opportunities, lost ability to interact with prospects and additional scrutiny for themselves and their program. . . . A key aspect of our review of ’secondaries’ is to determine if there’s a pattern beginning to emerge at an institution, within a sport or around a particular individual, be it coach, administrator or prospect. When trends are detected, the penalties and corrective actions become more severe.”
That Vols’ recruiting class for 2010 is indeed impressive. It remains to be seen if it will have all been worth it.