The Associated Press reported today that Louisiana State head coach Les Miles signed a contract extension that will keep him with the Tigers through 2012, ending speculation that he'd defer to Michigan, where he coached under Bo Schembechler.
"I look forward to many years as the LSU head coach," Miles told the LSU Board of Supervisors.
That's his story, and he's sticking to it.
In fact, he never wavered from that stance or from his insistence that he had no interest in taking a job coaching the Wolverines. You wouldn't have known that if you watched any of the stations in the ESPN family last weekend. Commentators in an endless stream of commentary were convinced that Miles' bags were packed for Ann Arbor, and that anything he said was only lip service in attempts to buy himself a reprieve from endless questioning and distractions.
Miles might still be buying time, and his current loyalty might flip after the national championship. I've just yet to hear any convincing reason to believe so other than Herbstreit's unnamed sources. I heard football analysts saying one thing, their subject saying and doing the opposite.
Right now, it seems that ESPN analysts and commentators created a story from hearsay and a reality (Miles wants to coach at Michigan) from a coincidence (Miles used to coach at Michigan). His return seemed so interesting that nothing -- not even evidence that Miles wasn't at all interested -- could sway commentators from describing how the story would unfold.
I and many others have talked about the ridiculous amount of unfounded speculation that now dominates ESPN, so I won't discuss that again. What's more interesting is that analysts and commentators who updated the "saga" in and within normal broadcasts last Saturday kept citing anonymous "sources."
The most common usage of such sources came from Kirk Herbstreit, a former college quarterback who's been with ESPN for more than a decade, who backed up his claims that Miles was leaving by referring to several sources he never revealed. He said that they were "close to the situation."
To me, a newspaper reporter, this was quite bizarre -- not just because Herbstreit's info turned out to be wrong, but because he seemed so casual about using unnamed informants. You wouldn't know it by watching ESPN that day, but citing an anonymous source is a big deal in journalism. A source isn't some guy overheard at a bar; it's a trusted informant who has accurate knowledge pertaining to a story.
And there are rules for using one in a story. Each newspaper has its own set of guidelines for unnamed sources, but there are usually some similarities. For instance,
1. In addition to the reporter, at least one editor has to know who the source is.
2. An anonymous source is to be used only when a named source with the same info can't be found.
3. A source has to have crucial info pertaining to the story and how it unfolds. He/she also has to be trustworthy.
4. There has to be a significant reason -- say, fear of injury or losing a job -- why the source doesn't give his/her name.
I'm not sure if Herbstreit's source was legitimate or not, and I don't expect him to reveal it, as Miles suggested he should when he called out those reponsible for speaking false about his decision. But all day long, Herbstreit and other commentators quoted unnamed sources seemingly at random and without guidelines.
Saturday's saga raises several questions:
1. Are there similar restrictions to those used by newspapers for using anonymous sources on the air?
2. What are they?
3. Why did Hersbtreit and others rely on sources who turned out to be inaccurate?