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NCAA loses appeal process in state Supreme Court

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The state Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear the NCAA's appeal of lower court rulings that forced the athletics organization to publicly release records on academic cheating at Florida State.

At a hearing last year, NCAA vice president David Berst had testified such a decision would set a precedent that would "rip the heart out" of the organization's efforts to ensure competition is fair and equal.

The ruling follows a decision by the high court in October to deny an emergency motion that sought to block release of the records in response to a lawsuit by The Associated Press and other news media.

The justices did not explain their unanimous decision, but a trial judge and lower appellate court earlier ruled the files were covered by Florida's public records, or "sunshine," law because the university is a public institution.

The records, including a hearing transcript, were part of a disciplinary case against Florida State that resulted in knocking 12 victories off the record of former football coach Bobby Bowden as part of the school's penalty. The NCAA stripped Florida State of wins in 10 sports because their athletes cheated on an online music test or received other unauthorized help with their studies.

Spokesman Erik Christianson said in a statement the NCAA is "disappointed in the court's decision, and we are evaluating its effect on the Association."

Media lawyer Carol Jean LoCicero disputed Berst's prediction that penetrating the NCAA's secrecy would have dire consequences.

"The NCAA deals with a number of public universities and we've always, as a county, valued transparency in dealings involving our public institutions," LoCicero said. "That to me is a higher priority."

The NCAA has in the past said it intends to pursue the case as far as it can, but LoCicero said it's unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court would take the case.

"They are going to have to allege a constitutional basis for that and they haven't managed to get any court interested in their constitutional argument yet," she said.

The Florida justices also ordered the NCAA to pay the media organizations' $2,500 legal fees for the Supreme Court appeal.

"If the NCAA hadn't interfered with FSU's ability to control and release public records in the state of Florida, the NCAA probably wouldn't have been a party to the lawsuit," LoCicero said. "They stepped in and frustrated our (public records) act. That got them where they are today."

Outside of college athletics, the case also is significant for the many instances in which private companies partner with state and local government agencies.

"In that sense the case is important to not give these entities a way to deny the public access to records impacting public institutions," LoCicero said.