Friday, February 6, 2015

NCAA's Punt On Secrecy Flops


The secrecy freaks at the NCAA have failed in their ridiculous attempt to foist their Star Chamber rules on the rest of us.

A California appellate court ruled Friday state law requires that documents in the NCAA’s investigation of USC running back Reggie Bush remain unsealed.
 
The ruling came in a defamation lawsuit filed in 2011 by a former University of Southern California assistant football coach against the National Collegiate Athletic Association after the NCAA punished him in its investigation of Bush, who was looked into for allegedly receiving cash and other prohibited benefits while playing college football.

After appealing NCAA sanctions against him, Todd McNair sued the NCAA for defamation. Significantly a trial judge gave him permission to examine the association’s Bush investigation file, about 400 pages. As a result, the NCAA sought to seal the records from the public, and the trial judge refused.

The Los Angeles Superior Court judge who reviewed the records ruled that e-mails between NCAA representatives in the case “tend to show ill will or hatred” and said the conduct was “over the top” and “malicious,” which could certainly be interpreted to help McNair’s legal case.

The NCAA, which represents 1,200 colleges and universities, then asked an appeals court to keep the records secret, saying that NCAA investigations of colleges and student athletes for rules violations are always kept under wraps and not made public. The NCAA found out Friday that its secrecy rules might work fine in a monarchy, but not in the public courts of California.

California’s rules of court provide that judicial records are presumed open to public inspection unless a litigant can show a compelling reason to seal them. In its ruling, a three-judge appellate court said the NCAA had not provided a convincing case for sealing the Bush investigation documents.

The Los Angeles-area justices noted California’s tradition of court openness and cited California Supreme Court rulings codifying it. The NCAA failed to “carry its burden to demonstrate that its interest in the confidentiality of its enforcement proceedings overrides the constitutional right of access and the presumption of openness,” the justices said in the opinion.

In summing up, the justices got around to the real legal issue at stake.

“We are cognizant that the NCAA, whose mission is to promote intercollegiate amateur athletics, provides an important public service,” they wrote in the ruling. “However, our analysis is based on the First Amendment. The constitutional right of public access to, and the presumption of openness of, documents submitted at trial (are) designed to protect the integrity of our judicial system.”
 
In other words, the NCAA obsession with secrecy stops at the courthouse steps.
 

R.D. Byron-Smith’s books are available at all online booksellers.

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