The University of Tennessee's athletic department has received the NCAA's initial verdict on freshman tailback Bryce Brown's amateur status and is appealing the ruling.
"That's not a final decision by any measure," athletic director Mike Hamilton said Wednesday of the initial response by the NCAA.
UT officials wouldn't comment on the specifics of the ruling, however, a repayment of any extra benefits Brown may have received when he was in high school and a one- or two-game suspension at UT are possible, but that is considered a worst-case scenario.
UT officials reiterated that the NCAA investigation has nothing to do with the Vols' recruitment of Brown, who was ranked the No. 1 prospect by Rivals.com in 2009. The investigation began early this year, before Brown signed with UT in March.
"Everything has been determined," said Brad Bertani, UT's associate athletic director for compliance. "Now we're just focusing on getting him eligible. There is no investigation ongoing right now.
"There's nobody (NCAA investigators) on campus. ... There never has been anybody on campus regarding this issue."
Two possible violations could have jeopardized Brown's amateur status.
First, where did the funding originate that helped send Brown to tour college campuses when he was at Wichita (Kan.) East High School?
If a prospective college or booster paid to help Brown travel to their campus his amateur status would be at risk.
Second, did Brown receive any extra benefits, such as free training? Brown's mentor in Kansas, Brian Butler, was also a trainer and has been the subject of much scrutiny for his involvement with high school prospects.
Despite rampant media criticism of Butler's role in Brown's recruitment, Hamilton didn't see widespread wrongdoing in the reports he received.
"There's not a big clandestine deal that I can see behind all this in Wichita at all," Hamilton said. "I think it gets highlighted because of the marquee nature of the individual that was recruited in this instance."
That is by design. The NCAA regularly investigates the top prospects in the nation, especially in football and basketball, Hamilton said. Those are the ones most often at risk of having their amateurism compromised.
"They're trying to cut off any problems before they get into college, before they play for two or three years then something comes out," Bertani said.
Questions about a student-athlete's amateur status are most common in basketball, golf, tennis and swimming - sports in which athletes are often recruited internationally where there are far different rules on amateurism.
Often such issues in those sports deal with prize money a recruit might have received following competitions.
Given that context, the Brown investigation is business as usual, except for the timing - or lack thereof.
"The frustrating thing is this was investigated and looked into in the spring and it has not been brought to completion," Hamilton said.
That leaves UT with little more to sit on than the initial ruling, which obviously wasn't what the Vols were hoping for.
"I'm not interested in talking about initial rulings," Hamilton said. "I'm interested in talking about what the final ruling is.
"Our hope is that sometime in the next two-and-a-half weeks we'll get a more favorable ruling as to what his amateur status is and what he has to do to make sure that he is able to be eligible to play."
UT opens the 2009 season against Western Kentucky on Sept. 5.
Brown's awareness of what he may have received could be a factor in UT's appeal. Bertani said it's not unusual to get initial rulings reduced due to mitigating circumstances.
"The facts have been determined and we're working through the eligibility reinstatement portion of it," he said.
Hamilton reiterated what h coach Lane Kiffin said of Brown on Tuesday, that UT's newest big name is also a "great kid".
"If he has to pay some monies, I'm hopeful that it's not a huge amount and I'm hopeful that he doesn't miss any competition," Hamilton said. "But I don't know that now."