NCAA plans to appeal court order

Updated: August 21, 2009, 7:00 PM ET
Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A judge ruled Friday the NCAA must publicly release documents on Florida State's appeal of an academic cheating penalty, and criticized the athletic organization for making underlying threats against the university.

Circuit Judge John C. Cooper said he'd give the NCAA two days from when he signs a written order next week to turn the documents over to The Associated Press and other media, which filed a public records lawsuit.

NCAA lawyers said they will appeal to block the release.

The documents focus on Florida State's appeal of an NCAA plan to strip coaches and athletes of wins in 10 sports.

That includes football coach Bobby Bowden, who stands to lose 14 victories. It would dim his chances of again becoming major college football's winningest coach. Bowden has 382 victories -- one behind Penn State's Joe Paterno.

The NCAA said in a statement it was "very disappointed this court has determined the NCAA's private records could be transformed to public records."

NCAA Division I Vice President David Berst testified that making the documents public would deter witnesses of academic and recruiting violations from coming forward.

Cooper said Florida's Constitution and open government act, or "sunshine" law, said any documents received by a government entity such as Florida State are public records unless exempt by statute.

"Public policies or consequences of the act should be directed to the Florida Legislature," Cooper said.

He said the NCAA has aggressively tried to keep the records secret while Florida State and its law firm has been caught between violating the open records law or risking NCAA retribution.

Cooper noted that Berst also testified the NCAA might deprive Florida State of its legal rights in the cheating case by withholding documents from the school to keep them secret.

"The testimony of the NCAA representative was in the nature of an iron fist with a velvet glove," Cooper said. "There was an underlying threat, even in this hearing, of sanctions."

Florida State President T.K. Wetherell said in a statement that he "cannot accept or believe" Berst's comment about stripping Florida State of its legal rights nor another suggestion Florida schools could quit the NCAA if they can no longer comply with its secrecy rules.

Wetherell said he would write NCAA President Myles Brand to urge that the organization consider changing its public records policy.

Cooper said to protect student confidentiality, names would be redacted, which satisfied media lawyer Carol Jean LoCicero.

"We've been sensitive about student information because we're not as evil as people think," LoCicero said. "So, what's so dangerous in documents that talk about a university and its employees and how they act?"


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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