KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin said he takes investigations of the school's recruiting practices as a compliment.
Kiffin said the strength of Tennessee's recruiting class, ranked by most analysts near the top nationally, has caused the unusual amount of interest in the Volunteers' methods, which are under investigation by the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference.
"I think when it comes to recruiting, we're at the highest level, and I think that people really want to know what we're doing," Kiffin said after practice Saturday. "They want to know how are we able to get interest from so many great players, and sign so many great players, so I think you have a lot of people coming at us."
Kiffin confirmed a report in Friday's New York Times that SEC officials are questioning Tennessee about an October recruiting trip to St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in which Kiffin was accompanied by recruiting intern Steve Rubio, a St. Thomas Aquinas graduate and former Vols assistant coach.
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Kiffin said Rubio acts as a personal assistant on some off-campus recruiting trips, but he did not think Rubio did any recruiting at the school, which would be a violation of NCAA rules.
"I know that he (Rubio) went in there and saw some of his old teachers and saw some of his coaches. I don't know that he did (recruit) at all," Kiffin said. "I never want to say never, but I will pretty much say that he did not while I was with him. And I don't think he could have, because they were practicing during the time that he went inside, anyway."
Mike Hamilton, the school's athletics director, said Tennessee took the SEC's review, like all recruiting ethics questions, "very seriously."
Kiffin said he assumed another SEC program turned in the potential violation, since the league office - rather than the NCAA - contacted Tennessee about the situation.
Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated posted a photo on its Web site Friday that shows two University of Tennessee hostesses with football recruits at a South Carolina game.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that the women in the photo are Lacey Earps and Dahra Johnson. Both are members of Orange Pride, a group mostly comprised of female students which is responsible for entertaining recruits on campus visits, among other duties.
The New York Times first reported on Wednesday the women traveled nearly 200 miles to Duncan on Sept. 25 to watch UT commitments Brandon Willis and Corey Miller of Byrnes High School play in a game against Gaffney.
The fathers of Willis and Miller described the female Tennessee students as friends of their sons who promised in the summer they would drive down for a game.
But the visit could be interpreted by the NCAA as an illegal off-campus recruiting trip by non-sanctioned Tennessee personnel.