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Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Updated: December 10, 7:57 AM ET
NCAA eyes use of hostesses

ESPN.com news services

The NCAA is probing Tennessee's football recruiting practices, according to several prep prospects, their family members and high school administrators.

Much of the investigation, first reported by The New York Times, is centered on the use of recruiting "hostesses" who have helped the program convince prep prospects to choose Tennessee by befriending prep prospects and attending their high school games.

Because the hostesses -- a part of the university's Orange Pride student ambassador group -- are considered an extension of the university, it could be considered a violation of NCAA rules if they helped recruit prospective athletes off campus.

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, the university confirmed that the NCAA was investigating and said the administration and athletics departments are cooperating fully.

"We are concerned about the alleged activities of some members of the Orange Pride," the university said. "Both university and NCAA guidelines are a part of the Orange Pride's orientation and training. If those guidelines were violated, we will take appropriate action. Because of federal student privacy regulations, we can't comment further."

The NCAA declined to comment Wednesday, citing its policy to "not comment on current, pending or potential investigations."

Orange Pride is one of three student admissions groups that serve as ambassadors for the university, according to the school statement. Orange Pride's responsibilities include staffing admissions programs, providing campus tours and hosting prospective athletes and their families. The group has 75 students -- both men and women -- and interacts with students across campus.

Tennessee has committed at least six secondary NCAA recruiting violations -- unintended violations of rules not deemed to have given the school an unfair competitive or recruiting advantage -- since Lane Kiffin took over as coach.

According to the Times, hostesses attended a football game at James F. Byrnes High School in Duncan, S.C., one of the nation's best high school programs, where at least three potential Tennessee recruits were playing.

Marcus Lattimore, a running back who had made an unofficial visit to Tennessee but was not interested in attending the school, said the hostesses brought signs, including one that read, "Come to Tennessee," according to the report.

Two of Lattimore's high school teammates, Brandon Willis and Corey Miller, have orally committed to Tennessee. Lattimore said the hostesses were "real pretty, real nice and just real cool" and thinks they had "a lot" of influence in his teammates making oral commitments, according to the report.

"I haven't seen no other schools do that," Lattimore said, according to the report. "It's crazy."

Gary Willis, Brandon Willis' father, said the NCAA had interviewed his son about the hostesses' visit to the game, according to the Times. Gary Willis said the girls met his son at Tennessee's football camp last summer and told him they would be attending one of his games. He also said the trip was not arranged by Tennessee coaches or staff.

Miller's father, Charles Miller, dismissed any implication that the hostesses were sent to his son's high school by the university, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

"Nobody put these girls on these boys," Miller said, according to the report. "It wasn't like they came to our boys. Our boys started talking to them."

Miller said the conversations between his son, Willis and the hostesses began during the players' visit to Knoxville in June. He's not sure if his son is dating one of the hostesses, but said they have stayed in touch, according to the report.

"I know they talk an awful lot," Miller said, according to the report. "I don't know if he calls it dating or not. I don't think there's anything wrong."

NCAA officials have visited with four prospects and are scheduled to visit two others this week, according to the report.

The minor violations under Kiffin have involved staging a mock news conference for prospects and mentioning recruits by name both on the radio and on his Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The efforts resulted in Kiffin signing the nation's top recruit in Bryce Brown weeks after signing day, a signee that pushed his first recruiting class that was ranked No. 15 nationally by ESPN.com on signing day and turned it into a top 10 class. Brown is the highest-rated recruit ever to sign with Tennessee.

Brown, ranked No. 8 overall and the No. 2 running back in the 2009 class by ESPN Scouts Inc., also was the recruit Kiffin named on radio in one of his NCAA violations.

Currently, Kiffin's 2010 recruiting class with 23 players verbally committed is ranked No. 6 nationally by ESPN.com.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.