One of the more fascinating sports journalism stories in some time has transpired in the past week. Last Friday, ESPN’s Mark Schlabach reported that Arizona coach Sean Miller was captured on an FBI wiretap discussing the payment of $100,000 to top NBA prospect DeAndre Ayton. Schlabach has implied he did not personally hear the audio or read the transcript.
The story went from being questioned in message board circles to 247Sports to Sports Illustrated, where Michael McCann, a legal analyst by trade, cited a source familiar with the FBI investigation who disputed essentially the entire report:
According to the source, relevant FBI wiretaps in the investigation did not begin until 2017—months after five-star recruit Deandre Ayton had already committed to Arizona in Sept. 2016. This account is consistent with reporting by Evan Daniels of 247Sports. The recruitment of Ayton, therefore, would have not been at issue in an intercepted phone call that occurred in 2017. To that end, the source told SI what Miller clarified for the first time Thursday: Ayton is not the player on whose behalf former ASM Sports employee Christian Dawkins allegedly sought a payment from Miller, and Miller never pursued or made any payments to a recruit associated with Dawkins.
This account depicts Miller as complying with both the law and NCAA recruiting rules. The same holds true of Ayton, whose compliance with NCAA rules would ensure that he remains eligible to play for the final month of his freshman year.
Sean Miller also came out firing in a press conference, calling the reporting “inaccurate, false, and defamatory.”
ESPN has corrected and re-corrected the specific time period of the their reporting. However, with regards to the nuts and bolts, a spokesperson for the company says, despite these recent developments, that ESPN “stands by reporting” on the story.
There appears to be a gray area in SI’s reporting where Miller could possibly have been recorded discussing – but not ultimately pursuing – payment to a different player, but ESPN’s standing by the reporting indicates that they still believe Ayton was discussed.
Thus, the circumstances have drawn up some clear lines: If ESPN’s reporting is accurate, Sean Miller is lying and Sports Illustrated is wrong. If Sean Miller is telling the truth and Sports Illustrated is right, then ESPN is not only wrong, but it has doubled down on being wrong.