Scandals always make good news, especially when they involve college athletes and allegations of cheating. Last week, Florida news organizations and the Associated Press received records of the NCAA’s Infractions Committee meeting with Florida State University (FSU), but only after a judgment by Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal.

The case, National Collegiate Athletic Ass’n v. Associated Press, has made its ways through the Florida judicial system because the press felt that transcripts of the meeting fell within Florida’s “sunshine laws” and should be available to the press. The appellate court affirmed a lower court decision requiring the release of the documents. While the appellate court noted that NCAA records are not generally subject to public disclosure, here the documents had been examined and used by lawyers for a public agency, which made them public records.

The NCAA argued that the public records laws did not apply because the documents were only posted on a secure website and in read-only format, rather than sent or emailed to FSU’s attorneys, and the law requires that the documents be “received” by a public agent. However, the court stated that, “the definition of a public record does not turn on the sender’s method of transmission.”

On Monday, October 12, the appellate court denied a NCAA request for review by the 1st District Court of Appeal Panel and a request for certification to the Florida Supreme Court. Although FSU released the records following that decision, the NCAA is going to appeal the decision in order to avoid setting any precedent that these types of documents are available for public viewing.

Sixty-one athletes were implicated in the cheating scandal and FSU has already accepted penalties reached in conjunction with the NCAA. But the school objects to the NCAA stripping FSU and its athletes of victories. The documents revealed details pertaining to how the NCAA views academic infractions and why Florida State may be stripped of victories obtained while student athletes were involved in academic cheating. The NCAA holds the view that the moment a student commits academic fraud the student is ineligible and, therefore, wins achieved by those players should not count. Also revealed was new information relating to the extent of the scandal.

This is one of the first times that these types of records have been made available in a NCAA disciplinary case and it will be interesting to see whether the Florida decision leads to more requests by the media for this information. However, it would seem that any such requests would be limited to situations which involved public colleges and universities as well as broad state freedom of information laws.

Joanna Barry

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