I don't see how anyone can be upset at Pete Thamel or ESPN's three reporters in this case. The NCAA is investigating Cameron Newton in the way described by those four. That's a fact. It is a newsworthy fact. Reporters report the news. The fact that they also looked into the financial difficulties of Cecil Newton's church is fair game here for two reasons: one, it was already public knowledge that his church was in danger of being torn down, and two, it describes an institution from whom the NCAA requested bank records.
The most persistent rumor regarding the reporting is that Urban Meyer tipped off Pete Thamel. I've yet to see anyone suggest that Meyer tipped off ESPN's reporters. So if that's the case, how did ESPN's guys find out about it later while doing a much more thorough job of reporting on it?
Thamel cites four entities in his report: John Bond, SEC associate commissioner Greg Sankey, "a person briefed on the offer," and other news outlets including ESPN. He also mentions that Meyer declined to comment via text message. ESPN cites Bond, multiple unnamed sources, a Lexis search, Cecil Newton himself, Jackie Newton (Cam's mother), Sankey, several NCAA officials, Mississippi State, Auburn, the NFLPA, and other media reports.
Part of the disparity is because ESPN had three people working on it while Thamel's only one guy. The far larger number of sources hints to me that ESPN got wind of this first. Plus, during his only public interview last week, Bond only mentioned ESPN and never brought up the New York Times. If you ask me, it appears that the WWL was on the case first. Pat Forde, Chris Low, and Mark Schlabach are all as well connected in the SEC as anyone.
If you want to get mad at somebody, get mad at Thayer Evans. He broke the story about Newton's cheating while at Florida. That information is not really newsworthy. It sheds no light on the NCAA's investigation. It's immaterial to the issue of whether Newton is eligible to play at Auburn. It's merely gossip and never should have been made public.
This ongoing story is almost like a Rorschach test. You can see whatever you want to see and find motivations for whoever you want to find motivations for.
Clearly, some people out there think Meyer's behind everything. The motivation? He's looking to deflect attention away from his team and tear down the great one who got away. Or he wants Newton declared ineligible before the SEC title game (as though leaking information has ever made the NCAA police go faster). If you want to believe that, okay.
Meyer leaking things only works though if he doesn't get caught. If he did spur the reports, it sends a powerful message to recruits: Don't play for Florida. If something doesn't work out, he's going to bury you. I can't think of a single thing Meyer's done that would hurt recruiting other than his detirement, and that ran deeper than football. Plus, after Meyer's name was attached to the first leak, why would he leak this new story too? Any short term victory regarding Newton being declared ineligible would by pyrrhic at best because of the long term damage done to his program's credibility.
Besides, the story broke the week after Florida's win over Georgia, one that he called the biggest win of his career. Why would he want to deflect attention from that? And if Meyer leaked the story about Newton cheating, he'd be breaking federal privacy laws. Going to jail is not in his interest either.
If you think Meyer's the only person that could have leaked the cheating story, you're nuts. Everyone inside the football program and the higher-ups in the atheltics department had to have known. Students who were on the honor court would have known too. And as long as we're trying to find motivations, who else could have done it? Dan Mullen knew, and he might still be upset about losing Newton and/or looking to back up his former boss and friend! Greg McGarity knew, and his team is playing Auburn this weekend! Billy Gonzalez would have known, and LSU needs two Auburn losses to get to Atlanta! Where did those black helicopters come from?
Spencer Hall mentioned on Bomani Jones's radio show this morning that the original story about Newton being investigated was bubbling up from a lot of places last week. Someone from an SEC staff (not a coach, a worker of some sort) tipped him off that something was brewing with Newton. Spencer wouldn't say who his source works for, but from the way he talked about it, it didn't sound like it came from any of the three schools involved.
There are a lot of loose lips around the conference.
WHO CAN YOU TRUST?
Everyone involved has issue denials. The Newtons deny asking for money. Rogers denies shopping Newton. Mississippi State and Auburn deny any wrongdoing. Bond denies that Meyer was involved. Meyer himself has finally gone on record today, saying "For anyone to think that I or anyone on our staff may have leaked information about private student records to the media doesn't know us very well. It's a ridiculous claim and simply not true."
In the end, you have to take everything as data points. We've got a lot of data points, and some contradict others. Right now, I don't believe any reporters had agendas. I don't think Meyer is the smoking gun behind all of this. Could I be wrong? It's possible, but I don't think I am given the information available.
My working theory is this: Rogers is a shady character who worked alone. He knew from working with him that Cam Newton's heart was with Mississippi State, so he tried to get gullible boosters to give him money for what he thought was an inevitable outcome. Word of it got around to Bond, who reported it to Mississippi State. State then passed information to the SEC, who passed it along to the NCAA and to Auburn. The NCAA has been investigating ever since.
A lot of people found out about this matter in that long chain from sources to Bond to MSU to the SEC to the NCAA and Auburn. Someone out of the dozens of people tipped off ESPN, and somewhere after that Thamel got wind of it. Word began to get out beyond media institutions, as Spencer described, and ESPN and Thamel had to go public with what they had last week. Thamel, being late in the game, could only tweet about it, but ESPN had a thorough report ready and published it. Thamel then used ESPN's reporting to fill out his own.
That could be entirely wrong, but that's my guess at this point. It's the simplest explanation with the fewest moving parts.