Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is calling on the NCAA to comply with state public records law and let Florida State release a document pertaining to the school's appeal of an NCAA-imposed sanction.
"As you know, the documents at issue are considered to be at the crux of a significant matter for Florida State University, its football program and thousands of football fans throughout the state," he wrote in a letter to NCAA president Myles Brand dated Friday.
"The records request is therefore all the more important for the people of Florida who wish to obtain vital information about a university matter in which they have invested time, money and a sense of honor. I urge your compliance with Florida's Public Records requirements."
FSU appealed an NCAA Committee on Infractions penalty that 10 teams involved in an academic misconduct scandal must vacate wins. Football coach Bobby Bowden would lose at least seven wins from 2007 and possibly more of the seven wins from 2006 if the penalty is upheld. He trails Penn State's Joe Paterno by one as major college football's all-time wins leader.
The Committee on Infractions responded to the issues FSU raised on appeal, but the NCAA's long-standing policy is to maintain that response on a secured custodial Web site.
FSU officials can view the document (only after signing a confidentiality agreement) as they craft a rebuttal by July 1, the next step in a long process that won't end until FSU appears before the Infractions Appeals Committee.
McCollum, a Republican who plans to run for governor in 2010, said that a "lack of physical custody of a document does not excuse Florida State University from its obligations under Florida law."
He added that a custodian, which the NCAA is in this case, "may not impose a rule or condition of inspection which operates to restrict or circumvent a person's right of access. … Under Florida Public Records law, the NCAA must provide copies of or access to such record to anyone making a public record request."
FSU officials, in fact, asked the NCAA if it could give them the access to the document so they could honor a public records request but were turned down.
Though Barbara Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, said the NCAA has put FSU in an "untenable position," her organization is planning to join with some media and file suit against FSU for failing to comply.
McCollum warned Brand that violations of the public records law are punishable by possible criminal penalties of a year in prison, a $1,000 fine, or both.
The NCAA had not yet reviewed McCollum's letter, but it previously told the St. Petersburg Times that its policy exists "to protect the confidentiality of documents and not, as others have erroneously asserted, as a "workaround' for the public release of documents."