Tennessee confirms probe into Orange Pride group

KNOXVILLE — University of Tennessee officials say they are “cooperating fully” with the NCAA in its investigation into some of the school’s football recruiting practices.

“We are concerned about the alleged activities of some members of the Orange Pride,” Tennessee officials said in a statement released Wednesday.

“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.”

Orange Pride is one of three student admissions groups that act as “ambassadors” for the university providing campus tours, help with admissions and hosts prospective athletes and their families. The university said Orange Pride has 75 students, both men and women, as members who work with hundreds of students.

The New York Times reported on its Web site Wednesday the NCAA is probing the use of hostesses by Tennessee to attract top players. The NCAA has met with four prospects and is expected to talk to two more this week.

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

Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton confirmed the investigation to The Times but did not return a message left on his cell phone Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Marcus Lattimore, a high school running back, told The Times several hostesses traveled almost 200 miles to watch three Tennessee recruits play at James F. Byrnes High School in Duca, S.. he bouhtsinsinluin oe ha rad ‘Coe o Tennese.”

Lattimore had made an unofficial visit but was not interested in committing to Tennessee. But two of his teammates, Brandon Willis and Corey Miller, have committed verbally to Tennessee. Lattimore called the hostesses pretty and real cool.

“I haven’t seen no other schools do that,” Lattimore told The Times. “It’s crazy.”

Many schools use hostesses to help prospective students during campus visits. They are considered representatives of the university and are not allowed to recruit players off campus. The visits could be considered violations of NCAA rules.

Tennessee has reported six minor NCAA violations since Lane Kiffin became coach a year ago — for his efforts in recruiting. Violations 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 from as low as No. 22 to No. 8 by Scout.com and No. 10 by Rivals.com. Brown is the highest-rated recruit ever to sign with Tennessee.

Brown, the consensus top running back prospect in the country, 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. 5 nationally by Rivals.com.

The Associated Press