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View Full Version : Football In light of National Signing Day - interesting NY Times article


Lzen
02-04-2009, 01:05 PM
Link (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/04/sports/ncaafootball/04recruit.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=sports)

College Recruiting’s Thin Gray Line
By THAYER EVANS and PETE THAMEL
Published: February 3, 2009

WICHITA, Kan. — The recruitment of the nation’s top high school football player, tailback Bryce Brown, has been so intense that he left town to escape the hoopla surrounding Wednesday’s national signing day. He may wait a month before deciding whether to join his brother, Arthur, a linebacker at the University of Miami, or go elsewhere.

Brian Butler is a recruiting adviser for high school football players. Sharing the spotlight and the drama of the decision is Brian Butler, who identifies himself as the Brown brothers’ trainer and manager. To get to Bryce Brown, coaches must go through Butler. He handles Brown’s workouts, recruiting and news media requests.

On a Web site, Butler sells updates of Brown’s recruitment for $9.99 a month or $59 a year. He also seeks contributions that he says are used to take players on a tour of colleges each summer.

Butler, a former rapper and cellphone call-center manager, is among a new breed of entrepreneurs inserting themselves into college football recruiting. Some say he is navigating gray areas of N.C.A.A. rules and brokering his clients’ futures for personal gain. Others say he is providing his clients with exposure they would not normally receive by leveraging connections he has made during the recruitment of the Brown brothers to create a market for lesser players.

Butler encouraged Huldon Tharp, a linebacker he trains, to spread word that he got a scholarship offer from Miami to raise his recruiting profile. A Miami spokesman, who checked with Hurricanes Coach Randy Shannon, said that the Hurricanes did not offer Tharp a scholarship or seriously recruit him.

Butler’s efforts are not even limited to the realm of college athletics. He said that he was considering having Bryce Brown skip college and play in the Canadian Football League.

“I’m doing a dang good job,” Butler said. “I know that I’m the most connected guy in Wichita and probably in Kansas. Probably in the Midwest, and let some people tell, probably in the dang nation when it comes to high school recruiting.”

In his representation of about 30 players from around Kansas, Butler has upset many local high school coaches. They say he persuades players to skip school-organized summer workouts in favor of his own — an assertion Butler denies. Coach Brian Byers of Wichita East High School said he suspected Butler of telling the Brown brothers to “shut it down” in games once they piled up big statistics.

Byers, who has coached football for 30 years, described Butler’s philosophy this way: “It’s all about me, me, me. That’s not what football is about. We’re a proven fact. We had supposedly the best football player in the country in high school, and we went 6-3. We didn’t have a team because of that.”

Intermediaries have long operated in college basketball. The N.C.A.A. is essentially powerless to patrol the actions of third parties, and officials would not comment specifically on Butler. But he is viewed as part of an emerging trend.

“It wouldn’t surprise me that we’re seeing a little bit more of that in football,” said Kevin Lennon, the N.C.A.A.’s vice president.

Asked how Butler handles his recruiting, Bryce Brown said: “I don’t really tell him to do anything. It’s just kind of what he does. He asks me my input on things. It’s all about us and how we feel.”

Rise to Prominence

The Brown brothers’ talent helped Butler, a 33-year-old father of five, rise from local trainer to national recruiting figure.

In the spring of 2007, Butler organized a showcase workout for Wichita area players, headlined by the brothers and sponsored at the last minute by Nike. Southern California Coach Pete Carroll, Florida Coach Urban Meyer and Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops found their way here.

“It was like the Mount Rushmore of college coaches,” said Tom Audley, the head coach at Andover Central High School, which is east of Wichita.

Within months, Butler filed paperwork in Kansas to establish a recruiting business, L.I.F.E. Training L.L.C., and a nonprofit organization, Potential Players Foundation. The Brown brothers’ father, Arthur Brown Sr., is one of the foundation’s board members.

“I’ve been supporting Brian in what he’s doing,” said Brown Sr., 46, who works for an aircraft manufacturer. “He’s trying to help as many young people as he possibly can.”

Butler left his $65,000-a-year job as the manager of a cellphone call center to work with high school players full time in January 2008. He charges from $70 to $200 a month for training sessions and $450 a player for recruiting consulting services. Butler said he has made less than $200 selling the online recruiting subscriptions.

Many people in college football question whether it is ethical for recruiting advisers to sell information on their players.

“We’ve got to the point where a handler or a street agent starts a Web site to charge money for an update,” said Tom Luginbill, the national recruiting director for ESPN and Scouts Inc. “I’m not in line with that. I think that is a precedent that could become very scary and very ugly.”

Bryce Brown, who graduated from Wichita East a semester early, said he did not mind that Butler was trying to profit from their relationship.

“If there’s anybody that needs to be making money off of me, it needs to be the person that’s put the time in,” he said.

Before Butler ended up in the BlackBerrys of college coaches around the country, he struggled for years searching for the spotlight. He attended three colleges — Fort Hays State University, Butler Community College and Kansas State. He played football at Fort Hays and Butler Community College.

Bryce Brown, left, and his brother, Arthur, have both used the services of Brian Butler.

Riley Spencer received little notice from major college programs until he signed up with Butler.

At 5 feet 8 inches and 350 pounds, he was known as Big B during his rap career. He said he once opened for Ludacris during a tour stop at Kansas Coliseum, although that could not be verified. He has worked numerous jobs, including as a telemarketer and as an employee at a liquor store.

Money has long been an issue, he said, and he has spent years fending off bill collectors. In 1997, he was arrested in a forgery case and pleaded guilty to a felony charge, which he said had since been expunged from his record. A state tax warrant was filed last year for his failure to pay $983.75, which Butler said he had since settled.

He said he has never asked a coach or a university for money, but he also said he did not vet every donor to his nonprofit organization.

At one point, Butler said, Ron Prince, then the coach at Kansas State, discouraged his program’s boosters from donating to Butler’s foundation. A booster’s donation with the hopes of luring a recruit would be an N.C.A.A. violation.

“Recruiting for college football is obviously changing,” Prince said in a telephone interview. “It’s become much more like the basketball model. When that happens, you then have people who are intermediaries like this gentleman is.”

Prince had little success recruiting Butler’s players. He lost his job last season, and Bryce Brown has since begun to consider attending Kansas State.

“He was basically telling those people don’t support my program,” Butler said of Prince. “Making sure the boosters don’t come in and support my program.”

At a high school game in October 2007, Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, Kevin Wilson, and defensive coordinator, Brent Venables, sat in the stands watching Bryce Brown play.

Byers, who coached the brothers at Wichita East, said Wilson later told him about a conversation he had that night with Venables.

“Hey, we’ve really got a shot — we’ve really got a shot at these guys,” Venables told Wilson, speaking about the Brown brothers.

Wilson responded: “Coach, we don’t have a shot. Look up in the stands.”

When Venables did, he saw Micheal Barrow, the Miami Hurricanes’ linebackers coach, sitting with Butler and holding one of Butler’s daughters on his lap.

Shannon described the recruiting of the Browns this way in a statement: “It is always our preference to involve the parents of the potential recruits in the recruiting process. In the case of my home visit with Arthur Brown, it was with his parents, and Brian Butler was not present.”

Where the Clients Are

Many coaches in the city of Wichita have discouraged or prohibited Butler from training their players, and Butler acknowledges that most of his business comes from the suburbs.

Byers said Butler disrupted his program and got into the Brown brothers’ heads by promoting a selfish approach, which he described this way: “We’re not going to worry about what happens with the team. If we can do what we need to do and the team wins, fine, but we just need to take care of ourselves.”

The brothers skipped a football camp that Wichita East held before the 2007 season. During his junior season, Bryce Brown did not even stretch with his teammates, Byers said. Brown went with his teammates to a team camp at Pittsburg State last summer but did not participate because he was concerned about being hurt. Nonetheless, he piled up impressive statistics during the season, rushing for 1,850 yards and 31 touchdowns.

“It’s always been him and then everybody else,” Byers said. “Our team chemistry was nonexistent.”

To see Butler’s influence, head to the rural towns of Mulvane and Hesston, Kan. The high schools there each have a player expected to sign with the University of Kansas on Wednesday. Both are clients of Butler.

In 21 years as a coach, Dave Fennewald of Mulvane High said none of his players had previously received an N.C.A.A. Division I offer. He was discouraged when his star tailback and linebacker, Huldon Tharp, did not receive much interest after tape of him was sent to programs in the Big 12 and Conference USA.

But soon after Tharp started working with Butler, Butler told him that Miami had offered a scholarship. Fennewald said he was “very surprised.”

“Brian has some connections with the University of Miami, and that kind of opened the door to Huldon’s name being out there,” Fennewald said. “So coaches were then calling and saying: ‘Hey, can we see some tape on this kid? Can you tell me about this young man?’ ”

A similar situation unfolded in Hesston, where students do not put locks on their school lockers or their bikes. Riley Spencer, a 6-6 offensive tackle, hired Butler. An offer from Miami soon followed. His only offer to that point had been from the University of South Dakota.

“Brian was my main contact with Miami,” Spencer said. “He sent film out, and I guess that was what did it. It was such a big change, because before football my junior year, I wouldn’t have thought about playing college ball at the Division I level. It’s really eye-opening what’s available.”

In recruiting circles, there is plenty of skepticism about the offers to solid but unspectacular players. Miami sits in one of the nation’s most fertile recruiting grounds.

“ ‘You’re telling me the University of Miami is leaving Florida to fly all the way to Mulvane, Kan., for a white kid that is a good 4A high school player?’ ” Byers recalled a college coach telling him of Tharp. “ ‘Something’s not right there.’ ”

Butler disagreed, insisting that Tommie Robinson, the Hurricanes’ running back coach, is “asking about what Huldon Tharp is doing and he wants Huldon to come and play fullback at Miami still to this day.”

Tharp said he never knew Miami was recruiting him as a fullback. Late Tuesday night, Tharp said that he never received a written scholarship offer from Miami. He said he “was just talking to them.”

He said, “Like they said, they were going to put it out as an offer,” adding, “It was like over in the media and like for the recruiting Web sites and everything.”

Asked if Butler told him he had received a scholarship offer to Miami, Tharp said, “Like what I’m telling you, like to start off my recruiting, they were going to do an offer so other schools see that and kind of get it rolling.”

Asked if he and Butler agreed to say he had a scholarship offer from Miami, Tharp said, “He said, like, they were going to put it out in the media, that Miami was, and it was like going to get my recruiting going so like all the other schools would be at and offer, you understand?”

Asked if Butler told him that he was going to tell people that he had a Miami scholarship offer that did not technically exist, Tharp said, “Yeah.”

Late Tuesday night, Butler said he spoke to a Miami assistant, who told him that he had verbally offered a scholarship to Tharp.

“There’s not a problem,” Butler said, adding, “It’s a 100 percent fact that he was verbally offered.”

Miami officials confirmed twice late Tuesday that they did not offer Tharp a scholarship, although they also said they had made an offer to Spencer.

College coaches are not permitted to comment on recruits who have yet to sign letters of intent. Kansas Coach Mark Mangino declined to comment for this article.

But a number of coaches scoffed at the Miami offers. They suggested Butler was using his Miami connections to use as leverage to obtain other offers.

Colby Duranleau, a senior at Wichita Northwest who trained with Butler for about 10 months until it became clear he would have to start paying for the services, has become a skeptic. He did not receive an offer from Miami or any other major program.

“Once they would get an offer from Miami, all the other schools would start taking you a lot more seriously,” Duranleau said. “It seemed strange that they were offering guys who wouldn’t pan out.”

Football recruiting is an inexact science, but Bryce Brown is considered a potential star.

Along with Miami, his main suitors are Southern California, Oregon, Tennessee, Auburn and Kansas State. He has two official visits remaining and is expected to take them at Auburn, Tennessee or U.S.C., but may not decide on a college until mid-March.

Butler said he would explore the possibility of Brown’s skipping college and going to the Canadian Football League next season if approached by a team. He mentioned the idea of a team paying Brown $5 million a year for three years. But the salary cap for entire C.F.L. teams is $4.2 million Canadian.

“If they were talking about any amount of real money,” Butler said, “I’d guarantee it.”

Lzen
02-04-2009, 01:06 PM
It's a long read, but very interesting.

Ultra Peanut
02-04-2009, 01:12 PM
See also The Sordid Tale of Travis Tolbert (http://www.chiefsplanet.com/BB/showthread.php?t=109473).

That guy's still my hero.

Lzen
02-04-2009, 01:27 PM
See also The Sordid Tale of Travis Tolbert (http://www.chiefsplanet.com/BB/showthread.php?t=109473).

That guy's still my hero.

Wow.

KCChiefsFan88
02-04-2009, 02:11 PM
Typical media singling out Miami for bad press. This story can be replicated for major programs across the country and not just in football (see Mario Chalmers being recruited to KU and his dad magically getting a job on the basketball staff).

mikeyis4dcats.
02-04-2009, 02:25 PM
Typical media singling out Miami for bad press. This story can be replicated for major programs across the country and not just in football (see Mario Chalmers being recruited to KU and his dad magically getting a job on the basketball staff).

uh, that article really isn't about Miami...

KcMizzou
02-04-2009, 02:49 PM
Keitzman just did a segement about this article at the start of his show.

KCChiefsFan88
02-04-2009, 03:10 PM
uh, that article really isn't about Miami...

It isn't about them, but a recruiting situation involving them is being used as an example.

mikeyis4dcats.
02-04-2009, 03:16 PM
It isn't about them, but a recruiting situation involving them is being used as an example.

know how to solve that? DON'T DEAL WITH LOWLIFES LIKE BRIAN BUTLER.


Seriously, if Miami continues dealing with him after he publicly admits to falsifying scholarship offers, they get what they deserve.