I'm not telling you something you haven't already seen from a dozen other sites, but the curious case of Brian Butler adds a new chapter - an NCAA investigation. To summarize my feelings from my first writeup of him (before the investigation was announced), I was a bit leery about the general concept of high school handlers, but felt that we should be willing to concede that he might not in fact be doing anything wrong. I even took it far enough to suggest that a little benefit of the doubt might be in order without further information.
Well, now we have further information. In a sense. As always, an investigation is not a guarantee of any actual wrongdoing; investigations, however, are not intitiated without a certain amount of reason to suspect a problem. It's not like the NCAA spins a glorified Wheel Of Investigation to figure out where they're sending their snoops next, right?
Here's where I'd like to get some thought from you all. I like to analyze and pick things apart, as you regulars know, but I'm flummoxed on this one. I know that the RTT community is rather bright and I'd like to know how you feel. So here are my musings and ponderances.
Having an NCAA investigation begin does not directly give us any more information about Butler at all. They may have started the investigation based on the exact same information we already knew, which only tells us that the NCAA recognizes that information. They also may have information that we don't have; the problem is that we don't know which case is true. (I would guess that they do have more information, as a dozen twitchy schools - all with vested interest in Bryce Brown and David Oku - are more than ready to cry foul if they suspect they're being gamed. Right, Miami? [/wink])
Yet the investigation does give us some very important indirect information. First, we know that the NCAA will have to end the investigation at some point. They can't keep them going in perpetuity. Further, there is a lot of incentive to end the investigation quickly; the 2010 recruiting season is already heavily underway. As usual, the top quarterbacks are getting ready to commit quickly so they can help influence their preferred teammate prospects. The "lifers" are also signing up quickly, pleding their undying love, their firstborn, and their future NFL alumni money to the schools their daddies taught them to cheer for. Beyond the early commitals, there are hundreds of athletes who will be courted by multiple schools at various levels - all of whom will be affected by the choices of the other players and several of whome are being advised by Brian Butler or some less well-known handler.
I'm also curious to see how much jurisdictional authority the NCAA thinks it has. Bryce Brown is not yet a student-athlete. He has not sent in an LOI and he has no binding commitments to any school. He could as easily sign on with the Foreign Legion as he could suit up for a game next season. He's not receiving anything from a school (i.e. scholarship), so there's no reciprocity in play. Under those circumstances, how much authority does the NCAA really have to limit his decision to have a handler? Whether his choice is good or bad is really not even in question at this point; the concern is whether he has the choice at all.
Let's also toss up a hypothetical. Suppose that Butler has been exploiting a relationship within a university to hype his players. (We can call this fictitious university "da U" if you like.) Certainly, the NCAA has authority to monitor and regulate the kind of activities that this university may engage in - it's a part of their contract as a member university. But that doesn't mean that they can penalize Butler for those activities. Butler is not a part of the NCAA.
If the NCAA believes that Butler is a cancer to the system, what can they do? Could they ban their schools from signing any player under Butler's tutelage? That really seems like blackballing and could open up some massive lawsuit questions. Could they penalize Butelr directly? Can they penalize schools for accepting Butler kids who don't otherwise get involved in any other NCAA violations?
SOME THOUGHTS DIRECTLY RELATED TO TENNESSEE FOOTBALL
- This might be the best thing to happen to Bryce Brown. No matter the outcome of the investigation, it'll be a lot easier for Brown to distance himself from Butler once he's in school. Butler may or may not be helpful to Brown in the recruiting process, but his influence would only be a detriment afterwards and Brown would be best served to be 100% under the wing of the staff at his school of choice.
- The same applies to Oku. Oku is also a Butler kid, thought his main problems seem to be self-inflicted. Still, clearing the deck may help this kid focus his life - something he desperately needs to do.
- Pay attention to how the staff responds to future developments. We know they're aggressive; if they believe that Brown will be a benefit to team, they'll pursue him so long as Butler doesn't cause NCAA problems to the program itself. But where is their line? If Butler begins to get in a lot of hot water, will UT cut bait or will they keep pressing? I don't think UT will have problems in this case, but how they handle it may give us an indication of how things will go in the future.
- If Butler is cleared, UT will continue to work with him. They've already declared that they'll look for recruits everywhere, even places that "they're not supposed to". That originally meant places where other schools are supposed to have the recruits locked down, but core philosophy easily extends to kids with handlers that the public doesn't happen to like.
If I were to summarize my feelings on this all as succintly as possible, it'd be something like this: I don't like the trend of high school handlers and I think it will only lead to trouble. Yet I don't see how it can be stopped, and there's nothing inherently wrong with 17-18 year olds with immense physical talent seeking advice. (I wish I had better advisors at that age, too!) By almost all accounts, we have reason to be leery of Butler, but until it's shown that he's "guilty" of poor behavior in all this, I can't really hold it against him, either.
So yes, I'm completely torn on the issue - both in general and in particular.