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Brown investigation a huge distraction for rebuilding Vols

Several members of Tennessee's highly touted freshman class will see the field when the Vols host Western Kentucky on Sept. 5. However, the crown jewel of the class, national No. 1 recruit Bryce Brown, may not be one of them.

Vols coach Lane Kiffin revealed this week the running back's eligibility is in question following an NCAA investigation into the player's relationship with hometown trainer/handler Brian Butler. The NCAA's concerns revolve around money raised by Butler's Wichita, Kan., organization to send Brown and others to summer camps while in high school. Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton told the Knoxville News Sentinel on Wednesday the school is appealing the NCAA's initial ruling, which could result in Brown having to repay extra benefits and serve a suspension for one or more games.

"It's a gigantic distraction," said Kiffin.

Should Brown be unavailable to start the year, the good news for Tennessee is running back may be its deepest position. In fact, even before Tuesday's revelation, Brown was hardly blowing away his competition. Besides veteran Montario Hardesty, speedy sophomore Tauren Poole has been UT's top rusher in both of its scrimmages to date, while freshman David Oku has broken several big plays.

That's not to say the Vols wouldn't miss Brown. The 6-foot, 215-pounder drew raves for his performance in last Saturday's scrimmage, in which he rushed 10 times for 57 yards and caught three passes for 27 yards; however, a minor hip injury suffered Monday put him on the sideline the next day.

"[I] told him [after the last scrimmage] that he was really going on the right track and he was really going to be special," said Kiffin. "I know [the investigation] bothers him. It's pretty unfortunate."

MORE COVERAGEMANDEL: Inside Tennessee's rebuilding effortsSEC PREVIEW: SI breaks down the conference raceGALLERY: Vols' Berry among top 10 players in SEC

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