Judge Rules NCAA Documents Are Public Records
Posted in Public Records

In a closely watched case, a Leon County, Florida trial court judge held last week that records concerning an NCAA investigation into possible academic cheating by athletes at Florida State University were public records subject to disclosure.  A coalition of media organizations had filed suit under Florida's public records law, seeking the release of transcripts from a 2008 NCAA hearing in which school and NCAA officials discussed the allegations of cheating.

The factual wrinkle that made this case unique was that University officials never actually received a paper copy of the documents from the NCAA.  Instead, the NCAA provided the school with secure access to a web site managed by the NCAA where the transcripts and other documents could be read -- but not downloaded or printed.  Because of this, the NCAA, which opposed making the records public, argued that the state never possessed the records, and therefore they were not subject to the public records law.

Media attorneys and attorneys for the state, which supported the release of the documents, argued that accepting the NCAA's interpretation of the law would allow any state contractor to utilize a similar view-only web site to circumvent the clear intent of the law.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the judge agreed that the documents were public records.  He said: "The NCAA's position is clearly contrary to the broad interpretation given to the definition of public records in Florida courts and legislative language."  Once University officials looked at the report online, it is as if they had received a paper copy, he said.

The NCAA has indicated that it will appeal the ruling and seek a stay of the judge's order.  The private organization is claiming that subjecting it to state public records laws would violate its First Amendment right of association because confidential informants might be less willing to report possible violations by NCAA schools if they fear public disclosure.

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