College Sports

N.C. State followed records law in dispute

A few months ago, a story from Bleacher Report said N.C. State had deemed the majors of its football players private information. We asked NCSU under what law, and that led the university to acknowledge a misunderstanding – and to make the majors public.

Two weeks ago, it looked like the same lack of disclosure happened again, this time with annual athletics financial reports the schools give to the NCAA. The Washington Post used the 2004 and 2014 reports to take a deep look at spending for schools within the so-called Big 5 conferences, and it reported NCSU was one of four public universities that refused to provide the 2004 financial reports, which it said “are not public records.”

There is nothing in state law that says those records are private, and as it turns out, that wasn’t the issue. NCSU previously had tossed the 2004 report because the university no longer had to keep it under state records retention laws.

The correspondence between Post reporter Will Hobson and NCSU shows the university offered the 2005 report to him at his request and tried to get the NCAA to release the 2004 report to him.

The NCAA refused, so Hobson asked NCSU to download the report from the NCAA’s website. He told NCSU many other universities had done that to help the Post collect the information.

At that point, NCSU declined, noting the state public records laws do not require state agencies to obtain records they don’t have in their possession. Hob son said during an interview the three other public universities had said the same thing, leading to this explanation in his story:

“Four public schools (North Carolina State, Louisville, Oregon State and Penn State) refused to provide 2004 reports, which are not public records in those states.”

[PDF: UNC 2004 and 2014]

Hobson stood by that explanation, saying it would have been too wordy to point out that the problem was with records retention laws.

But if NCSU had the 2004 report in its possession, it would have had to produce it under North Carolina’s public records law, and NCSU officials said they would have done that.

In the end, NCSU did provide the report to The News & Observer. Initially, Fred Demarest, an athletic department spokesman, said the university also could not download the report for the N&O, citing the same reason other NCSU officials gave Hobson.

We then asked Fred Hartman, NCSU’s university relations director, if Chancellor Randy Woodson supported that decision. Woodson never weighed in, but the next business day, athletic officials downloaded the report from the NCAA’s website and sent it to us as a “courtesy.”

UNC had both reports and provided them to Hobson a week after his request. He sent them to us this week. Those and NCSU’s are provided with this report. Both programs saw big growth in revenue and spending from 2004 to 2014, making them part of the national discussion about the rapid growth in college sports spending.

The Post reported that even though 2014 revenues at UNC and NCSU had grown significantly to $76.5 million and $63.8 million, respectively, both were operating in the red.

Duke and Wake Forest, the other in-state Big 5 schools, are private, so they don’t have to release the reports. U.S. Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat, filed legislation last year that would make private schools’ reports public too, but it hasn’t moved.

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