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Patrick Witt's choice: was it real?

By Anne Thompson
NBC News

Last year, we brought you a story about the choice Yale University quarterback Patrick Witt had to make ... go to the final round of interviews for the Rhodes Scholarship or lead the Bulldogs against the Harvard Crimson in what is known as "the Game."  Many of you watched our story and weighed in on what choice Witt should make. 

Today, the New York Times reports that in the end Witt didn't have a choice.

Based on talking to a half dozen anonymous sources, the Times says the Rhodes Committee told Witt and Yale that his candidacy had been suspended because of an accusation of sexual assault and it would not go forward unless the university re-endorsed Witt.

In a statement released this afternoon Witt's agent says the Times incorrectly connects the two issues. Mark Magazu writes "To be clear, Patrick's Rhodes candidacy was never "suspended," as the article suggests, and his official record at Yale contains no disciplinary issues."

At issue is the timeline of events.  Witt announced his decision to play against Harvard on November 13th.  The question is when did he and Yale know that the Rhodes Committee knew about the accusation.

Witt's agent says as late as November 8th, Witt received an email from the Rhodes Committee asking him to make a choice.  On November 10th, Witt gets an email from Yale officials remarking that if he withdraws he will still have a chance to re-apply for the scholarship. 

The agent's statement says by the time Witt learned that the Rhodes Committee had been told of the accusation and wanted an additional reference letter from Yale, "Patrick had already informed Athletic Department officials that he intended to withdraw his candidacy due to the inability to reschedule his final interview, and that he would issue a statement to this effect following the Princeton game on November 12."

As for the young woman in this case,  Witt says he knew her for many months and had "on-again, off-again relationship beginning in the Spring of 2011 and ending about two months before the informal complaint was filed."

At Yale, those who believe they are victims of some kind of sexual assault have two options beyond going to the police.  They can make an informal or formal complaint to the university. Witt's accuser chose an informal complaint only and never went to the police.   Under this process, Yale says there is no investigation, no taking of testimony, and no determination of guilt or innocence.  While there could be an informal resolution, no one is disciplined because there is no determination of what happened.   The informal complaint does not go on a student's record.  And in this case, it is not on Witt's record.

Witt's agent says the quarterback requested a a formal inquiry but was denied "because, he was told, there was nothing to defend against since no formal complaint was ever filed.  Further, while the committee can refer an informal complaint into a formal process if more substantial disciplinary action may be warranted, it did not do so in Patrick's case. At that time, all parties, including the University and Patrick, considered the matter ended."

This is a disconcerting turn in a story that attracted us all because of the enviable choice Patrick Witt had.  It now has us all discussing the very difficult subject of allegations of sexual assault and how you talk about them when very little is on the record.  So much about the accusation is protected by federal law, designed to shield the accuser and the accused.  Remember, this accusation and its resolution were confidential. 

When I last wrote about Patrick Witt, I told you how I brought my 11-year-old nephew Drew on the shoot.  I hoped Witt would be a role model for Drew, someone who excels in both academics and athletics.

Honestly, I don't know what to say to Drew now.  The Patrick Witt I met, and who Drew and I have seen since the shoot, has always been a gentleman, kind and courteous. The only way I know how to do this is keep searching for the truth.  I promise to keep you updated.