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Bryce Brown Investigation Shows Poor Timing by NCAA, Puts Tennessee in a Bind

Douglas WebbCorrespondent IAugust 20, 2009

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 01:  Arian Foster #27 of the Tennessee Volunteers tries to run away the South Carolina Gamecocks defense during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 1, 2008 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Everybody knows somebody that is bad about procrastination. You know, they have that certain thing they need to take care of but put it off for a day or two. No big deal, right?

What if it's something that's going to affect others? They still put it off or take their time about doing it, and the next thing you know, it's caused others to miss a deadline or, worse yet, to get in trouble.

That's what the NCAA does regularly. Take, for instance, the latest incident in the news as a prime example.

Tennessee signed Bryce Brown, considered by many to be one of the best running backs in the 2008 class. Brown was cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse and was allowed to enroll for classes at the university.

Not too long after fall camp began, head coach Lane Kiffin was contacted and told that Brown's eligibility was in question because of an investigation into Brown's relationship with his handler during his recruitment. At the time he was told Brown could continue to practice with his team and prepare for the Vols' season opener against Western Kentucky on Sept. 5.

Now the issue here has nothing to do with the University of Tennessee. They themselves did nothing wrong in the situation other than being unlucky enough to sign a player who had issues in his background. Poor judgment on their part, maybe, but still no rules violation.

Brown had become acquainted with a gentleman named Brian Butler. Butler was putting together a deal where he could take kids whose athletic abilities made them targets for recruitment from college football programs and act as a guide for them.

Butler was raising money through car washes and cookouts. The money was supposed to be used to take the players around the country so they could participate in football camps, as well as learn about the academic environments at the schools they visited.

It seems a simple and honorable enough venture, right?

Of course, anytime you involve outside individuals, money, and other benefits like travel and meals, the NCAA starts getting all giddy about the potential of investigating somebody.

Butler had also started a website he called PotentialPlayers.com, where he was charging people to get updates about the recruitment of the players associated with him. After The New York Times did a story on Butler and the site, there was a lot of negative press on the issue.

Butler decided to stop charging a fee for people to get the information.

Kiffin, of course, was not at all happy with the situation, telling ESPN, "The NCAA continues to investigate Brown and his whole history going back to when he was young, and I know that bothers him. It’s pretty unfortunate."

The current NCAA investigation revolves around Brown's relationship with Butler and whether Brown received payments for unofficial recruiting visits while he was still playing high school football.

Now two weeks into fall camp, the NCAA has issued an initial finding to the school stating that Brown is ineligible. Tennessee, of course, will file an appeal in an attempt to have it restored.

The sad thing about all of this is the NCAA has known for months that there were issues regarding Brown and Butler—since at least last February, if not before then.

So why wait until now to start an investigation? Why not take care of this stuff long before now? The UT coaches were spending their time getting this kid ready to play a season of football he might not even be eligible for.

ESPN's Chris Low even speculated that another school had recently contacted the NCAA regarding Brown and his relationship with Butler. He suggested this was the reason that investigators had just begun.

Of course, if someone did rat to the NCAA, it would be ironic considering the actions of the Vols' former head coach Phil Fulmer.

The NCAA Bylaws listed below seem clear. All the investigators had to do is determine whether they've been violated. That could have been done months ago, saving the Volunteers a lot of heartache and heartbreak.

The NCAA Bylaws

Under NCAA Bylaw 12.3, a student-athlete (any individual who currently participates in or who may be eligible in the future to participate in intercollegiate sport) may not agree verbally or in writing to be represented by an athlete agent in the present or in the future for the purpose of marketing the student-athlete's ability or reputation. If the student-athlete enters into such an agreement, the student-athlete is ineligible for intercollegiate competition.

Also, a student-athlete may not accept transportation or other benefits from an athlete agent. This prohibition applies to the student-athlete and his or her relatives or friends.
The term "agent" includes actual agents, runners (individuals who befriend student-athletes and frequently distribute impermissible benefits) and financial advisors.

It is not a violation of NCAA rules if a student-athlete merely talks to an agent (as long as an agreement for agent representation is not established) or socializes with an agent. For example, a student-athlete could go to dinner with an agent and no NCAA violations would result if the student-athlete provided his own transportation and paid for his meal.

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