On National Signing Day, February 2, 2011, Fanhouse SEC honk, Clay Travis, assaulted the digital media waves with the provocative headline "NCAA to Smack Tennessee, Lane Kiffin". His Tweet of the story included catchy words like "Breaking" and "Exclusive" and was retweeted 100s of times. Soon after Travis' sensationalized Kiffin hit piece was published, USA Today, Sporting News. NBC Sports/CollegeFootballTalk and others quickly ran with it. eSECpn's Joe Schad bandwagoned onto the NSD anti-Kiffin buzz by tweeting the following hypothetical:
Attorney Michael Buckner says if Kiffin found to have "failed to monitor" at UT then "...it calls into question USC's strategy in hiring ..."
Travis' sources were "multiple sources close to the investigation both inside and outside the university (Tennessee)" (note: no sources from the NCAA). The NCAA findings are purported to be a failure to monitor violation against the University of Tennessee, Kiffin, and former Tenn Asst Coach, David Reaves. The charges stem from allegations of improper recruiting contact by the now disbanded female hostessing organization at UT, the Orange Pride, at the direction of the football coaching staff in 2009.
In his propaganda, Travis takes repeated shots at Kiffin, describing his tenure at UT as "tumultuous" and "disastrous". He claims that Kiffin continues to "haunt the (UT) football program". He questions whether or not USC will "stand behind" Lane Kiffin now that USC's football program is again on "shaky ground".
What Travis doesn't mention is that way back in 2009 when Kiffin was still the Head Coach at Tennessee, Travis published an article defending Kiffin and criticizing the NCAA for their investigation of the Orange Pride: "NCAA Probes Tennessee Hostesses". More after the jump......
December 9, 2009 Fanhouse "NCAA Probes Tennessee Hostesses".......in this article, Travis counters the seminal story on the Orange Pride allegations from Thamel and Evans at the NYT. Travis offers several mitigating points in defense of the Vols and Kiffin, with the most salient summarized below:
2) Lack of written record to illustrate a directive from coaches to hostesses. Travis questions the validity of the allegations in the 2009 article with no evidence, then shares in the 2011 article that the NCAA has evidence AGAINST REAVES ONLY, not Kiffin.
3) The hostesses attended recruits' HS games AFTER they had committed, as they had not met beforehand. The players in question committed at Tenn on Sept 12 during a visit for the UCLA game. The hostesses attended the HS games on Sept 25, which means there is no way that the recruits based their decisions on the off campus visits from hostesses.
4) Lane Kiffin didn't install, nor did he select the hostesses. The Vols' hostesses existed long before Lane, and used to be called Fulmer's Fillies. In fact, the program historically allowed an assistant football coach to sit on the selection committee, again, pre-Lane.
5) The investigation is probably due to the NCAA "not respecting Lane's public boasting" and the NCAA's desire to give Lane "a public rapping on the knuckles". Travis insinuates that the NCAA would not be investigating this issue under Fulmer.
6) Do the Vol hostesses know specific NCAA bylaws about recruiting? No, they are hourly student-employees who work for the Admissions Office.
7) Even if the allegations are true, this is probably not a major violation.
Wow, the 2009 article provides a rather convincing defense of Lane Kiffin on this issue! Yet, shockingly, there is no mention of the 2009 article in Travis' 2011 piece. Golly gee, I wonder why?
Like their SEC brethren, Tennessee is no poster child for abiding by the rules. These current allegations appear quite meager compared to the Vols last major football violations in the 90s:
From NCAA Legislative Search Database - IMPERMISSIBLE RECRUITING: arrangement for an airline ticket on credit to a prospective student-athlete; improper off-campus contacts; recruitment of prospective student-athletes before completion of junior year; impermissible transportation. UNETHICAL CONDUCT. ERRONEOUS CERTIFICATION OF COMPLIANCE.
However, this time, Tennessee is being investigated in three sports, and could be facing the dreaded Lack of Institutional Control (see Mr. SEC-Triple Trouble for Tennessee Under the NCAA's Microscope). In the NCAA's Letter of Inquiry to Tennessee, systemic impermissible recruiting and illegal benefits in basketball, football, and baseball are the concern:
"possible violations of recruiting and extra-benefit legislation (that) occurred primarily during the 2008-09 through 2009-10 academic years.'
And, of course, there's the Fulmer Cup, in which the Vols are an annual top 10 school.
While Travis refers to Lane's one year 2009 stint in Knoxville as "disastrous", it's hard to make the label fit considering the following: 1) Vols improved from sub .500 to a winning record in '09 (sub .500 again in 2010), 2) Vols had a top 10 recruiting class (compared to #35 in '08), and 3) offensive production improved from 22 TDs in '08 to 47 in '09 (40 in '10). That is some massive spin to call the Vols only winning season in the last 3 years "disastrous".
Any rational person must ask the question, how did this story leak out before the NCAA report was sent? We know that the NCAA policy is not to comment on ongoing investigations (except for USC). Travis relied solely on UT sources "both inside and outside the university", so we must assume that Tenn leaked the story to the press in advance of the NCAA report. From our own experience at USC, we further know that the university can speculate, but DOES NOT KNOW the contents of the final NCAA findings until the report is released.
So, is it any surprise that UT leaked conjecture on a report to a noted SEC honk with a markedly anti-Kiffin slant? No. Is UT facing the potential of multi-sport violations begetting a Lack of Institutional Control charge by the NCAA? Yes. And, is Vol's AD Mike Hamilton currently on a very hot seat? Yes. So, does that make Kiffin a decoy or scapegoat for Vol Nation? You decide.
While it is certainly plausible, even likely, that the NCAA will charge Kiffin with something, it appears that it's the Vols, AD Hamilton, and former Asst Coach Reaves who are really behind the eight ball. Trojans know that the NCAA does not send out investigators to dig up exculpatory evidence and prove innocence. The NCAA pre-determines wrong-doing and sends out investigators to prove guilt, or at least fabricate evidence to achieve their objective. Yet, in this investigation, Lane Kiffin would appear to be a derivative target hit with some minor collateral damage at most. At least to any rational, objective observer.
But, that dog doesn't hunt in the SEC. And, it doesn't induce web hits on the AOL network for Clay Travis from his southern audience. And, it requires MSM sports reporters to do too much work to bother with the facts. The SEC - if anything goes wrong, blame Lane Kiffin! And, if you want to know which way the wind is blowing in Tennessee today, just check which direction Clay Travis is facing.
Note Clay Travis Bio: Clay Travis (Complete wimp)(born 1979) is an American sports journalist, writer and the author of the column ClayNation on Fanhouse. He also co-hosts a daily radio show in Nashville from 12-3. Travis was raised in Nashville. In 2010, Nashville Scene named Travis "Best Sports Radio Host We Love To Hate" in the publication's "Best of Nashville" issue. Books authored include Dixieland Delight: A Football Season on the Road in the Southeastern Conference and On Rocky Top: A Front-Row Seat to the End of an Era.