NCAA, State of Florida Go Toe to Toe in Dispute over Open Records

Jul 3, 2009

In Charlie Crist’s short stint as Governor of the state of Florida he has shown that he is not afraid of picking a fight with national organizations.
So when controversy erupted last month about whether a letter sent by NCAA to Florida State University violated the state’s Sunshine Law because of steps taken to keep it private, the NCAA ultimately acquiesced. It provided the document, which was issued in response to FSU’s appeal of sanctions, in redacted form.
The controversy erupted in early June when a sunshine and public records lawyer for Attorney General Bill McCollum said Florida statutes are clear that the NCAA cannot generate a document and deliver it to a state university and designate it to be private.
“Florida law trumps what the NCAA wants and Florida State is obligated to provide access to that document,” Alexis Lambert, the lawyer, told the Associated Press. “Everything about this to me looks like it was a document received in connection with official business. The maker or sender of the document is not allowed to determine the circumstances.”
The NCAA countered in the media that the practice of making the document a private communication protects the integrity of a particular NCAA investigation.
Attorney General Urged NCAA To Comply
The battle escalated days later when McCollum sent a letter to NCAA President Myles Brand, which read:
“In as much as the NCAA has provided the letter in format which the university may only view, but not download or otherwise copy, it appears that the NCAA is therefore acting as the custodian of this record on behalf of the university. A lack of physical custody of a document does not excuse Florida State University from its obligations under Florida law. … I urge your compliance.”
The media the stepped in to the fray the following week, filing its own lawsuit on June 15, charging the NCAA and FSU with scheming to violate open government laws by not making correspondence public.
“This action concerns a scheme created to avoid public access,” according to the lawsuit. “The scheme developed by the NCAA and aided by FSU and its counsel is particularly insidious to Florida’s constitutional and statutory guarantee of access to public records.”
A couple days later, the NCAA agreed to permit FSU to provide the document as long as it was redacted for student privacy concerns.
NCAA Director of Legal Affairs Naima M. Stevenson wrote to FSU General Counsel Betty Steffens, that “the NCAA will not object to FSU’s disclosure of the response provided FSU complies with applicable federal and state privacy laws and exemptions.”


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