Kentucky Basketball: The Sun-Times Doubles Down

One day after receiving a letter demanding the removal of this paragraph from an article on one of its websites, the Chicago Sun-Times has come back with an even stronger claim against UK recruit Anthony Davis and the University of Kentucky.  First, the paragraph that was removed:

The rumors/sources that have Davis choosing Kentucky are also alleging that the commitment cost $200,000. Davis Sr. has flat out denied everything.

This morning, the Sun-Times has this article (Hat tip: BlueCollarMan) which doubles down on it's earlier redacted claims and now insists that at least three sources are telling them that Anthony Davis was for sale to the highest bidder at the behest of his father, and it was "someone" related to Kentucky:

Sources told the Sun-Times the father of 6-10 Anthony Davis, a highly recruited senior basketball player, negotiated a deal that promised $200,000 from someone who wanted Davis to commit to Kentucky.

...

Sources from three separate universities told the Sun-Times that Davis Sr. asked for money in return for his son's commitment, with the amounts ranging from $125,000 to $150,000.

So my question is, is the source that reported the $200,000 deal different than the other ones?  Because if not, somebody is $50k short there.  But whatever.

I have no idea as to the truth or fiction of these claims, but I am going to operate from a presumption that Kentucky did not, in fact, promise $200,000 to Davis through some unknown and unnamed "someone." I'll lay out my reasoning for operating from that assumption a bit later.

I cannot gainsay the Sun-Times because they claim to have sources, and this article clearly was edited for accuracy (unlike the first one until this rewrite).  I think we have to take such allegations as at least facially accurate -- sources are telling the Sun-Times these things.  I do not believe, however, that the Sun-Times sources are telling them the truth, but rather passing on rumors at best.

So what is going on here?  I really don't know for sure, but I do know this -- If I went out and tried to find three people who would tell me that a random basketball star had asked for money in return for his college commitment, I guarantee you I could get three people to tell me that, or tell me that they had heard it rumored from "reliable sources." 

What separates that sort of anecdotal story from a real news story is the reliability of those passing along the information.  We are denied the ability to evaluate the reliability of the Sun-Times' information, because they have refused to name the accusers.  "Sources from three separate universities" could mean anyone from the compliance staff to a student off the street.  They don't even trouble to use adjectives like "usually reliable" or "well-placed" that you so often see in anonymously-sourced news stories.

So what is wrong with this?  Several things, not the least of which is the potential damage done to the recruit.  The Sun-Times is essentially daring UK to prove them wrong here, and given that the Sun-Times has claimed access to information that is not generally known and the source of which they are unwilling to reveal, it is difficult for Kentucky or Mr. Davis to take action against them without a protracted, detailed and expensive investigation.

Here is what I think happened here, and this is my opinion only:  The Sun-Times defamed UK and Anthony Davis on Wednesday, and got caught in that act.  It knew that a lawsuit was likely, and to forestall that lawsuit, it went out and found three witnesses who would vindicate their earlier story.  They don't need to be reliable sources in this case, they merely need to be facially unconnected with the newspaper and have substantially the same story.  The veracity of their charges is not particularly important to the Sun-Times, they merely need to be plausible.

For that reason, they will remain unnamed.  The Sun-Times will claim journalistic privilege to protect its sources, and only through an expensive discovery process would they by forced to disclose them.  I strongly suspect they will not even disclose them to the NCAA.

If UK sues now, it has a much higher threshold to cross.  It can no longer allege negligence, which was clear in the first article, but must prove actual malice.  That bar is, for all intents and purposes, too high to reach without paying out a small fortune in investigative and legal bills which would be unlikely to be recovered from the financially strapped Sun-Times.  By writing the article this way, the Sun-Times has effectively inoculated itself against a defamation suit, except at great cost to either UK or Mr. Davis.

As I said before, this is my opinion of the matter and nothing else.  I have no evidence other than what is available on the Internet, but the explanation is logical and reasonable given the circumstances. I also believe the Sun-Times has acted so unethically and irresponsibly that it is not reasonable to give them the benefit of the doubt they would normally be due.

If the charges turn out to be accurate and the Sun-Times reveals their sources, I will retract my statement above and apologize in public, not because I must, but because it would be the right thing to do.  But I strongly suspect the Sun-Times in this matter, and their behavior in the first case and the lack of logical support for the charges that they have levied is the driving force behind my reasoning.

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So why do I think it is not logical for UK to do this?  Well, in the first place, Kentucky does not need the commitment of Anthony Davis enough to spend $200,000 on him, even if Kentucky were the lawless brigand that the Sun-Times article portrays them as.  The article, among other things, suggests that UK is using back-channel methods to "buy" players with huge amounts of money.  I want each and every one of you to think back -- how many times have schools who have violated NCAA regulations been accused of offering 6 figures to a player?  I can't think of one, offhand.  Most of the time, the money is accumulated over a period of time and rarely amounts to in excess of $100,000.

Second, we can't help but wonder where the money would be coming from.  Could UK be just that evil, and be sending $200,000 from boosters to pay for a player?  Sure, it's possible, although that sure is a lot of money for a player that just recently got noticed.  There is also the question of why UK would do that -- top talent has been throwing itself at Kentucky since Calipari got here, ostensibly without being offered $200K.  Are we to believe Calipari is ponying up the $200K from his personal fortune?  I suppose that could be, but what would be his motivation?  Is UK any more likely to win the National Championship with the addition of one more top recruit to the stable they already have in hand?

In the end, though, we will never know about the veracity of these claims, and nothing will come of it.  Why?  They simply don't pass the smell test, and there is no logic behind them.  That doesn't mean they are false, it just means they are unlikely at best.

So I call on the Sun-Times and the alleged witnesses -- come out of the shadows.  Help us clean up college basketball.  If UK is really this filthy, I want everyone associated with this mess fired and prosecuted tomorrow morning, starting with president Lee Todd and working its way all the way down.  This sort of behavior is intolerable, if true, and even though Kentucky is my favorite team, I would spare them not a whit if they were involved in something so nefarious.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant, they say.  Come out of the shadows.  Tell the truth.  Offer proof.  Let's get rid of all the bad actors we can.

Or shut up, and stop hurting other people with anonymously-sourced stories that are facially unbelievable.

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