Twice, Florida courts have sent the same unequivocal message to the NCAA: When you seek to discipline a public university's athletic program, you must comply with the Florida Constitution's mandate for open government records. The NCAA should accept this latest loss rather than try another Hail Mary pass that will surely fall short before the Florida Supreme Court. It needs to change its policies. To do less sets a horrible example for athletes and breaks faith with the very taxpayers who help underwrite collegiate sports by funding public universities.
The 1st District Court of Appeal, in a ruling issued Thursday, soundly rejected the National Collegiate Athletic Association's various far-flung arguments — from interstate commerce to constitutional rights — that it could hide documents pertaining to pending sanctions against Florida State University for an academic cheating scandal involving 61 athletes. The NCAA contended the confidentiality is central to its ability to investigate and enforce rules on its members.
But the documents in question became public, the court ruled, when they were transmitted to FSU's lawyers for use in preparing the university's appeal to the sanctions, which could include stripping football coach Bobby Bowden of up to 14 of his 382 career wins. NCAA security measures made it technically impossible for FSU to provide the documents to the public in compliance with Florida law.
The court rejected the NCAA's ludicrous notion that because it transmitted the documents to private attorneys hired by FSU, who signed a confidentiality agreement, the information was never transmitted to a government entity. "The right to examine records is a right belonging to the public; it cannot be bargained away by a representative of government," wrote Judge Philip J. Padovano.
The three-judge panel also soundly rejected the NCAA's contention that the documents in question were protected under federal student privacy laws. The Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act, a frequent crutch for colleges that seek to hide details of an embarrassing campus episode, did not apply because the redacted documents "do not contain information relating to a student."
The NCAA has now been defeated twice. It should demonstrate the good sportsmanship it claims to uphold by embracing, not trying to thwart, the openness required of its taxpayer-financed members. University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft, a member of the NCAA Executive Committee, should help it find that path.