Appeals Court Orders Disclosure of Coaching Contracts

May 22, 2004

A Maryland Appeals Court has delivered a victory to a Baltimore newspaper that was seeking to disclose all income received by the University of Maryland’s head coaches.
Specifically, the court ruled that base salaries, performance incentives and other perks must be disclosed. However, it gave Maryland the option on whether it needed to disclose the financial contracts that coaches have with third parties (such as athletic shoe, apparel or equipment manufacturers) under the Maryland Public Information Act. In the latter case, Maryland may disclose such contracts or keep them confidential, subject to a circuit court’s review that may rule otherwise.
The impetus for the case was 2002 public information act request that the Baltimore Sun filed to obtain such information from the university. The university responded by claiming that it only had to disclose the base salaries of coaches, and that other clauses spinning off the contract should be considered confidential personnel documents.
The university persisted with that argument as the case worked its way through the courts. Then the state Court of Appeals issued a writ of certiorari to hear the case. In its ruling, the high court found that all employment contracts, amendments, side letters or other documents that reflected a real or potential disbursement of state funds must be disclosed.
Whether the coaches’ third-party arrangements must be disclosed is another matter.
Appeals Court Chief Judge Robert M. Bell wrote that “the decision whether it is appropriate to disclose the third party contract under the MPIA is one that cannot be made in a vacuum. Rather, to determine whether disclosure is appropriate, both the University contract and the third party contract will have to be reviewed in tandem.”
Fellow Judge Glenn T. Harrell dissented from the majority’s opinion on the third party question, arguing that such disclosure would cross a line.
“By enacting the MPIA, the Legislature expressly chose to exempt from disclosure public records that contain information about the personal finances of an individual, including income, that do not constitute salary paid by the State,” Harrell wrote.
Such information could be newsworthy since the university signed a 5-year contract earlier this year with Under Armor Performance Apparel to outfit the football team. Journalists are frothing at the opportunity to learn whether Football Coach Ralph Friedgen has a personal deal with Under Armour, which is the industry norm in college athletics.
The university would house that information, since coaches are required, per NCAA rules, to report such third-party contracts to the university, which then reports them to the NCAA.
Terry Roach, Maryland Chief Legal Counsel, told Sport Litigation Alert that such agreements may not have to be disclosed “if they were sufficiently distinct from the University/Coach employment contract. However, the court said if the third party agreement was, in fact, contemplated by the employment contract, referenced in it, or otherwise closely knit with it, then we had to release it.”
Roach said the court informed the university specifically that it would have to disclose Gary Williams’ Nike contract. Presumably, the same rationale would apply to Friedgen’s Under Armour deal.


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