NCAA: Take Your Sunshine Laws And Shove It

Florida's "Government in The Sunshine" Laws are regularly abused by whoever happens to be in power. Legislative members meet behind closed doors to discuss the State's business with lobbyists, and municipal officials work out deals with business leaders over a dinner. Only when an angry citizen hears about this are the public servants called out, but they continue doing it rather than be subject to the boundaries of representative democracy.

That little rant aside, the Sunshine Laws are beautiful for accessing public records. (Unless you want to find out how Dale Earnhardt died.)This is how the former Speaker of the State House started to be investigated for funneling millions to a community college which then hired him for an unadvertised $100k a year job. As news media outlets continue winning public records cases, they have now decided to challenge the NCAA.

In the NCAA's investigation of Florida State's cheating scandal, they submitted documents to FSU detailing their findings. Since FSU is a public school, their records (student and medical records excluded) fall under the Sunshine Laws and can be viewed by the press. That is the claim of the 26 media outlets making the public records request. But the NCAA has challenged this, saying that they are a private organization not subject to Sunshine Laws.

"A document created by and belonging to a private organization like the NCAA does not become a public record simply because a representative of a public agency looks at it," the motion to dismiss said. "To hold otherwise would lead to a plethora of problems for public agencies and private organizations alike."

Thinking as a former journalist, and not a lawyer, I would think the NCAA does not have a case. Once the documents are in the hands of FSU, they are part of the public record. In addition, the media has a right to know what was in the findings, since if FSU loses income due to sanctions, that impacts their budget and the State's overall budget. But there is one more thing;

But the NCAA says the documents are not a public record because it is a private organization and FSU pays its membership dues with private funds from the Florida State Foundation.

That mucks it all up. If this is the case (like the separation of the University of Florida and the University Athletic Association), the NCAA might be on solid ground. Now, it's just two private organizations. But, I'd still make the claim that an investigation impacts the entire school, even if NCAA dues are paid for by a privately funded organization. Athletic success translates into financial success for the school and the failures can hurt the school as well.

In the larger view, this is another cannon shot into the once proud FSU athletic program. The longer this scandal continues, the longer the stench will stay. The possible punishment of vacating 14 victories in football is just the tip of the iceberg. Remember to include nine other sports impacted, including the proud Baseball and Men's Track programs. No matter the outcome, the loser will continue appealing, hoping to set legal precedent. We may see the day when the biggest victory attached to FSU is from the Supreme Court. Which is a long way from the Orange Bowl.

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