Last Friday, ESPN reported that Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller had signed off on a $100,000 payment to five-star recruit DeAndre Ayton in a phone call with ASM runner Christian Dawkins that was caught on tape by the FBI. Four days later, the network is still facing questions over the veracity of that report.
The problems here started when ESPN reporter Mark Schlabach said on air that the call in question took place in the spring of 2017, at which point Ayton had already signed with the Wildcats. ESPN soon issued a correction saying it actually took place in the spring of 2016, then apparently corrected its correction to simply say the call took place in 2016.
Now, a report from 247Sports seems to suggest even the corrected correction could be off.
A source told 247Sports that Dawkins (who had his phone tapped by the FBI) and Miller had calls intercepted between the timeframe of June 19 of 2017, through Sept. 25.
Sources say that the U.S. Attorney’s office notified multiple parties who had conversations with Dawkins that their phone calls had been recorded specifically during the dates of June 19, 2017 and Sept. 25, 2017.
The fourth-ranked player in the 247Sports Composite, Ayton signed with Arizona on Nov. 10 of 2016. He arrived on campus on June 10 of 2017, according to a source. Ayton began orientation on June 19.
This discrepancy has huge implications for the story — and specifically for Ayton’s eligibility. If Miller and Dawkins’ calls were intercepted in 2017, not 2016, they couldn’t have been caught arranging to pay the center to sign, since he had already committed by then. That could help explain why neither Arizona nor the NCAA has declared Ayton ineligible, allowing him to continue to play while the mess is sorted out.
ESPN told 247Sports that it stands by its reporting, which means this simply comes down to which report you believe. If you trust ESPN, then Ayton appears to have received an illicit payment. If you trust 247Sports, the center likely could not have accepted such a payment — at least not under the circumstances described by ESPN. Presumably, the FBI will release its findings at some point, offering some clarification, but until then, it’s tough to know what really happened.
For what it’s worth, this is not ESPN’s first bit of questionable (or incorrect) reporting on the Miller/Ayton scandal. On Saturday, the network reported on air during Arizona State’s game against Oregon State that Miller had been fired from Arizona as a result of the FBI probe. Not long after, ESPN retracted the report, with play-by-play man Steve Quis calling it an “inadvertent report from the press row.”