News organizations sue UNC for access to football records

NORTH CAROLINA -- Eight news organizations sued the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Thursday for access to athletic records denied to them under a federal student privacy law.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs -- including The Daily Tar Heel student newspaper -- were denied a variety of documents relating to 11 student football players. The university cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act in denying the outlets' public records requests.

The football program is under investigation by the NCAA for possible improper benefits given to players by sports agents. The university also launched an internal investigation into possible academic dishonesty related to tutoring provided through the school.

The requested documents include university investigation records, the names of people who provided certain benefits to UNC football players, the phone records of Athletic Director Richard Baddour and head football coach Paul Davis, parking tickets given to players, the names and employment dates for athletic tutors and the recipients of athletic scholarships.

"We think relationships with sports agents aren't part of someone's educational record, and we think the public has a right to know whether former associate head coach John Blake called players right before or after talking to sports agents," Tar Heel Editor-in-Chief Sarah Frier wrote in an editorial Friday. "We think a list of tutors employed by the University isn't a part of an educational record, and that the public needs a clearer picture of how one of them came to assist football players in cheating."

The four plaintiffs -- Baddour, Davis, Director of Public Safety Jeff McCracken and Chancellor Holden Thorp -- could not be reached for comment.

"We met with The (Raleigh) News & Observer about their concerns and felt like we were being responsive," Thorp said in a Thursday news release. "So I'm disappointed by the lawsuit. We recognize the media's legitimate interest in the football story, but we can't ignore federal and state law with regard to confidential student and personnel records."

According to the release, the university has received an influx of records requests in recent months and is the process of hiring additional staff to handle the increase.

"The University is entrusted with lots of confidential information about our students," Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Leslie Strohm said in the release. "They and their families expect us to hold that information in confidence because it's required by federal law and because it's the right thing to do. A football player has the same basic privacy rights as any student on campus."

Spokesmen Steve Kirschner and Kevin Best of the UNC Athletic department declined further comment. The Office of University Communications did not return a call for comment.

The media organizations bringing the suit are The News & Observer, The Daily Tar Heel, The Charlotte Observer, Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/ Newhouse Partnership, WTVD Television, Central Broadcasting Company Incorporated, The Associated Press and Media General Operations Inc.

Daily Tar Heel, news, North Carolina, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill