KNOXVILLE -- An NCAA representative is in Knoxville investigating whether the amateur status of Tennessee freshman running back Bryce Brown has been violated, which could potentially make him ineligible.
Mike DeCesare, the NCAA’s assistant director for amateurism certification, has talked with Brown in the last day. Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin acknowledged Tuesday after practice that there was a question surrounding Brown’s amateur status and that the investigation had been a "gigantic distraction" for Brown, who was one of the top prospects in the country last year.
Sources told ESPN.com that the crux of the NCAA’s investigation revolves around Brown’s relationship with Brian Butler, who was Brown’s adviser/handler during his recruitment. Brown was one of several prospects that Butler mentored.
In particular, the NCAA is looking into some of the fundraising Brown accepted in high school to visit college campuses and what role Butler might have played.
"The NCAA continues to investigate [Brown] and his whole history going back to when he was young, and I know that bothers him," Kiffin said. "It’s pretty unfortunate."
At one point, Butler was charging money for recruiting updates involving Brown and other players on his PotentialPlayers.com Web site. He later stopped charging and made the information free.
The NCAA's investigation of Butler dates back to at least February when DeCesare visited Wichita to talk to several people there about Butler’s relationship with Brown. One of the people DeCesare met with at the time was Brian Byers, who was Brown’s former high school coach in Wichita.
Butler told ESPN's Joe Schad on Tuesday night that he informed the NCAA that he did not intend to break any rules.
Butler said that he has explained to the NCAA about fundraising he did. He said he understands that he would have put the eligibility of the players in jeopardy had the trips been exclusively "for athletic purposes" but that the central element was meetings arranged with academic staffs.
Butler said he took Brown and the other players on a trip during Brown's sophomore year. He loaded the players on a bus and traveled to Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and SMU, among other schools.
"We raised money for the trips with barbecues in front of Sam's Clubs and Wal-Marts," Butler told ESPN.com. "I called it an 'academic tour.' My intent was to broaden the minds of our young players."
Butler said in Brown's junior year, the journey was to campuses such as Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa State, Illinois, Northwestern and Notre Dame.
"If I thought this could put any of the players' eligibility in question, I would not have done it," Butler told ESPN.com. "And I understand I could have been if it was just for football reasons. But I explained it all to the NCAA and I think they understand it."
Butler said he did not spend any money out of his pocket for the trips, only spending what he raised for his non-profit entity.
"I know some people say I'm shady," Butler told ESPN.com. "I know some people think I'm an agent. But I'm not. I'm just trying to help some kids. We did everything on the up-and-up. We didn't take any handouts from anyone. I know my character. And I know I wouldn't jeopardize these kids."
Butler said if Brown is ineligible for any games, he'd take responsibility.
"I would feel terrible," Butler said. "I just want everyone to get to know the person Bryce is and to see the great player he is, too."
Tennessee officials are hopeful that the matter will be resolved soon and not drag out, but Kiffin conceded that he was worried about Brown’s status for the start of the season. The Vols open on Sept. 5 against Western Kentucky.
Information from ESPN.com's Chris Low and ESPN's Joe Schad contributed to this report.