KNOXVILLE — Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said Saturday he does not believe UT’s football program committed a secondary violation after a report surfaced into the actions of a recruiting intern.
First-year UT coach Lane Kiffin didn’t seem so sure.
Hamilton said UT has provided the SEC with its internal review of intern Steve Rubio’s trip to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Rubio was accompanying Kiffin recently while he was recruiting at football powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
The story implicating Rubio, who played football and spent a year there as a volunteer assistant coach after graduating in 2003, was reported by The New York Times late Friday on its Web site. It’s the second time this week the newspaper uncovered possible recruiting violations by the Vols.
By NCAA rules, only UT’s nine assistant coaches and Kiffin are allowed to visit prospects off campus.
Hamilton said he does not believe Rubio met with prospects. If he did, the violation would likely be ruled a secondary violation by the NCAA.
“In college athletics from time to time, institutions will have secondary violations,” Hamilton said. “The rule book is thick in its intricacies.”
Under Kiffin, UT self reported six secondary violations earlier this year. UT is also under a highly publicized review by the NCAA for alleged misuse of its recruiting hostesses.
The Vols are recruiting several prospects from St. Thomas Aquinas, including defensive back Cody Riggs and kicker Michael Palardy, who committed to UT in September.
After practice on Saturday, Kiffin declined to rule out contact between Rubio and prospects during the trip.
“You never want to say never but I’ll pretty much say that he did not (have contact with prospects),” said Kiffin, who added that Rubio visited with friends at the high school.
Rubio joined UT this summer. He had been director of player personnel at the University of Central Florida. Rubio spent three years as an equipment manager for the Golden Knights and was moved to graduate assistant for recruiting and operations in 2007.
Kiffin said he doesn’t believe it would have been possible for Rubio, who acts as a personal assistant and often guides him on the road in South Florida since he is familiar with the area, to meet with prospects since the team was practicing during their visit.
Kiffin said Rubio hasn’t visited with coaches or school employees at other recruiting stops.
“He doesn’t do that at any other schools that we go to when he goes with me,” Kiffin said.
Hamilton pointed out that UT has still not received an official letter of inquiry from the NCAA regarding the activities of the members of the university’s Orange Pride, a group mostly comprised of female students and responsible for entertaining recruits on campus visits, among other duties.
Two Orange Pride members — Lacey Earps and Dahra Johnson — traveled nearly 200 miles to Duncan, S.C., on Sept. 25 to watch UT commitments Brandon Willis and Corey Miller of Byrnes High School play in a football game. A photo that surfaced Friday from SI.com shows Earps and Johnson posing with Miller and Willis holding a poster board sign that reads “Miller and Willis have our hearts …” The word “hearts” is written in orange.
Their presence alone is likely an NCAA violation since they are considered UT representatives and must adhere to the same standards and limitations of contact with prospects as football coaches.
Hamilton acknowledged that Kiffin’s public persona, which is often described as brash, could make him more of a target by media and opposing coaches who could turn him into the NCAA.
Hamilton said Kiffin and UT are always aware of fine-tuning his image.
“Lane is a very bright guy,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said he understands that promoting UT football, sometimes through provocative comments, is a necessity.
Hamilton said the key is finding an appropriate balance.
Kiffin hasn’t seemed fazed amidst the media maelstrom.
“When I used to say things about Florida, I would like that if I were them because it means they’re at the top and people are shooting for them,” he said. “When it comes to recruiting, I think we’re at the highest level of it. People really want to know what we’re doing.
“How are we able to get interest from so many great players and sign so many great players? I think you have a lot of people coming at us. If you can’t beat them, figure out a way to figure that they’re doing something wrong.”
While Hamilton is certainly not pleased with the scrutiny, he would be disappointed if the Vols weren’t self reporting secondary violations. That would be an indictment of his compliance department.
“Our goal in our compliance department is to identify violations and make sure they don’t become repetitive,” Hamilton said.