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Posted: Thursday August 20, 2009 12:13PM; Updated: Thursday August 20, 2009 1:13PM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >
INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Brown investigation a huge distraction for rebuilding Vols

Story Highlights

The NCAA is investigating whether top recruit RB Bryce Brown is eligible

At question: Money raised by handler Brian Butler to attend football camps

Tennessee is deep at running back, but the inquiry is a "gigantic distraction"

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Tennessee scored a huge recruiting coup by luring RB Bryce Brown, the nation's top recruit, away from Miami.
Tennessee scored a huge recruiting coup by luring RB Bryce Brown, the nation's top recruit, away from Miami.
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Several members of Tennessee's highly touted freshman class will see the field when the Vols host Western Kentucky on Sept. 5. However, the crown jewel of the class, national No. 1 recruit Bryce Brown, may not be one of them.

Vols coach Lane Kiffin revealed this week the running back's eligibility is in question following an NCAA investigation into the player's relationship with hometown trainer/handler Brian Butler. The NCAA's concerns revolve around money raised by Butler's Wichita, Kan., organization to send Brown and others to summer camps while in high school. Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton told the Knoxville News Sentinel on Wednesday the school is appealing the NCAA's initial ruling, which could result in Brown having to repay extra benefits and serve a suspension for one or more games.

"It's a gigantic distraction," said Kiffin.

Should Brown be unavailable to start the year, the good news for Tennessee is running back may be its deepest position. In fact, even before Tuesday's revelation, Brown was hardly blowing away his competition. Besides veteran Montario Hardesty, speedy sophomore Tauren Poole has been UT's top rusher in both of its scrimmages to date, while freshman David Oku has broken several big plays.

That's not to say the Vols wouldn't miss Brown. The 6-foot, 215-pounder drew raves for his performance in last Saturday's scrimmage, in which he rushed 10 times for 57 yards and caught three passes for 27 yards; however, a minor hip injury suffered Monday put him on the sideline the next day.

"[I] told him [after the last scrimmage] that he was really going on the right track and he was really going to be special," said Kiffin. "I know [the investigation] bothers him. It's pretty unfortunate."

MORE COVERAGE
MANDEL: Inside Tennessee's rebuilding efforts
SEC PREVIEW: SI breaks down the conference race
GALLERY: Vols' Berry among top 10 players in SEC

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