ESPNer Smith Loses Credit For Huge USC Scoop?

Veteran ESPN reporter Shelley Smith, who has been covering USC football training camp here in L.A., was apparently the first to break the news today that true freshman Matt Barkley will be the starting QB for the Trojans a week from Saturday against San Jose State. (With Ohio State in Columbus looming on Sept. 12.)

Shelley Smith Scoop That Matt Barkley Will Be USC Starter In First Game

When I initially ran a search on the story, the above ESPN-sourced result was the very first to pop up - with Smith’s name attached. But when you clicked on THAT link to the story, mention of her had been removed. In fact, the account was from the ASSOCIATED PRESS.

What happened to Smith's scoop on ESPN.com?

(What the? ESPN-sourced piece replaced by AP Story on ESPN.com?)

Wot?

Having covered sports teams in the main media on a daily basis for 16 years, forgive me if I put my conspiratorial hat on for just one iota.

As paranoid as we know coaches, p.r. people and editors to be, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone at ESPN saw that Smith’s source was initially noted as “close to the freshman quarterback“, and had the initial Smith-credited piece replaced with the AP story.

Why? Because if USC Coach Pete Carroll knows there’s a mole close to Barkley feeding Smith information, he might object in some way to Smith covering the teamĀ  - and stop that privileged flow of info.

Trust me when I tell you that is exactly the way some coaches and p.r. staff people think. They won’t forget who was able to report first what supposed to be team secrets.

Since the news of Barkley’s start hit the wires soon after Smith’s report, and her reportage wasn’t on an island, perhaps ESPN replaced the story to help her maintain her undercover status on the beat.

I know, total tinfoil hat stuff. But I saw that sort of thing go on countless times when I was covering teams. NEVER underestimate the paranoia of coaches and p.r. people.

I do realize though that the whole crediting Smith kerfuffle could end up being a tech glitch. It makes no sense that ESPN would break a story first then link to an AP account.

I’ll be at the USC scrimmage at the Coliseum on Saturday at 1130am PT to eyeball Barkley for the first time. I’ve heard conflicting reports on him so far. I’ll wait until I see him myself before I give you the straight dope on the kid.