Tuesday, July 5, 2011

On NCAA compliance issues, schools bear some blame for fan vitriol

image As the summer heats up, so do expectations for the the coming football season. Along with the temperatures, hopes and blood pressure readings, the smack and vitriol between fanbases heads into the red zone, too.

Nowhere is the intensity greater than between the fans of the University of Alabama and Auburn University. Fan behavior in the fiercest rivalry in the country has been a virally hot subject here in recent days.

The finger-pointing, the whispering, the innuendo, the accusations, then the shouting matches that ultimately play out on radio talk shows across the state and around the country. It’s all about to kick it up a few notches.

Gentry Estes, currently covering the Georgia Bulldogs for 247Sports.com, has a good column this morning on one very good reason why no one in this state trusts anybody wearing that other god-awful color combination. The two universities reside in a state with arguably some of the nation’s weakest open records statutes, the so-called “Sunshine Laws.”

Quoting from Gentry’s rant:

It has to do with open records laws and a university's willingness to comply in a timely manner to media requests for information in accordance with those laws. Public colleges are public institutions, so they are subjected to federal and state laws regarding the release of information like self-reported NCAA secondary violations. Every SEC school except Vanderbilt (a private school) falls under these general guidelines.

State laws have varying quirks [that] can be interpreted in different ways from a legal standpoint. For this reason, some schools feel justified to simply ignore requests, pick and choose details to withhold or simply stall on a reply until it works best to offer an answer.

Case and point, I held a Twitter conversation Monday about the University of Alabama just releasing two years worth of self-reported violations, responding to media requests that dated back all the way to 2007. I know because mine was one of them, dating back to my first week on the beat in Tuscaloosa in Aug. 2007.

Most of the Tide's misdeeds released were petty things that typically fall under the label of secondary violations (though the summary provided by UA offered basically no detail or names as to each violation), but that's really not the point. The point is that UA has still not made available self-reported violations from 2007 through the end of June 2009, which should make anyone wonder exactly how many were logged during Nick Saban's first couple of years in town.

But hey, give Alabama some credit. It is actually ahead of state rival Auburn, which reportedly hasn't released its own self-reported violations in who knows how long.

Public accountability and transparency is never a bad thing. A climate of secrecy breeds the one-of-a-kind paranoia that exists among fans in the state of Alabama. After all, if you don't know what has been reported to the NCAA, you also won't know WHAT HAS NOT been reported to the NCAA. So there is no check to rampant rumors among Bama and Auburn fans about NCAA letters of inquiry and investigations ... Because there really could be one being hidden from the public eye!!!

The state’s Sunshine Laws are pathetically weak and as a result, the two major Division I schools in the state don’t feel much pressure to cooperate with media requests for records. When the universities don’t comply, or don’t comply fully, the resource-challenged state media outlets don’t see a cost-benefit payoff in pursuing the matter through legal proceedings.

As Gentry points out, Auburn hasn’t complied with requests for violations reported in “who knows how long.” At least Alabama complied with the 2009-2011 request. Both AU and UA were provided with these formal requests, and they were not limited to secondary violations. As for the 2007 UA request, University contacts told IBCR that it could not comply with media requests for those records, since they would have compromised the privacy both student-athlete and non S-A academic records. Those records are protected by federal privacy law that trumps state law. I urge skeptical readers to call, write or email and see for yourself. Sometimes, it’s not only the information you ask for that counts, it’s how you ask the question.

As Gentry and others also point out, it is patently ridiculous to suggest that (1) a school that reports secondary violations is guilty of “rampant cheating” while (2) a school that keeps its mouth shut is clean and pure. That’s nonsense.

At any rate, both schools could go a long way in clearing the air simply by being more transparent. Instead of looking for ways to get out of complying with a legitimate request for public records, the public institutions should look for ways of making sure their compliance activities are well documented and transparent.

That would put an end to the nonsense we saw in the summer of 2009, when Operation Red Dog was in full swing; when the hammer was supposed to swing ‘in two weeks,’ and the Preliminary Letter of Inquiry* was due AnyDayNow®.

*There ain’t no such animal as a ‘Preliminary’ Letter of Inquiry.

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