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October 16, 2009, 09:39 AM ET
The NCAA, secrecy, and habit

by John Gasaway

Here’s something you don’t see every day. It’s a complete transcript of Florida State’s appearance before the NCAA Committee on Infractions on October 18, 2008.

It’s not the transcript’s content that’s interesting. (I trust. It’s nearly 700 pages and I haven’t read it.) On that day FSU president T.K. Wetherell apologized at length for his school’s employment of a “rogue tutor,” one who allegedly wrote papers for and gave answers to athletes on several Seminole teams, including men’s basketball and football. (Wow, “rogue” was really au courant in October 2008. Wonder why?)

No, what’s interesting is that hoi polloi like you and I get to read this at all. The transcript was pried away from the NCAA’s perpetually dark forest via a lawsuit brought by the Associated Press and other media organizations. This week the Florida District Court of Appeals upheld an earlier ruling saying the document was subject to the state of Florida’s open-document “sunshine” laws. The NCAA had tried to avoid this outcome by never actually giving the transcript to FSU, instead putting the massive pdf on a password-protected website for the school’s attorneys to look at.

I am wholly uninterested in the minutiae of public-document case law. What fascinates me is the NCAA’s reflexive and indeed primal craving at all times and in all cases for total secrecy. To hear the NCAA talk, this craving is merely procedural. “The enforcement process and indeed the normal course of our business relies on confidentiality to ensure compliance of NCAA rules,” says NCAA spokesman Bob Williams.

On some occasions this will undoubtedly be true, of course. But the NCAA hardly makes this determination on a case-by-case basis. If they did, it wouldn’t have taken a lawsuit by the Associated Press to produce the first-ever public release of such a document. No, the NCAA merely defaults to secrecy every time. This is not a determination made based on the particular contours of an individual case, but rather a pre-programmed craving embedded in the culture of the organization. I am on the record as stating that yelling at the goll-dern NCAA often represents the laziest and indeed hackiest kind of punditry imaginable. (It is punditry based not on the particular contours of an individual issue but rather on pre-programmed cravings embedded deep in the hack.) But in this case the hacks have a point: The NCAA needs more transparency.  

Take the Derrick Rose case at Memphis, for example. Though we remember that saga as revolving wholly around Rose’s disputed SAT score, a not insignificant portion of said case actually involved the free travel provided to Rose’s older brother, Reggie Rose, who was not a student and who at the time was 32 years old. What possible rationale other than habit can there be for acting like the travel provided to an adult non-student by a public university is a state secret?

Answer: None. At this point the NCAA is just in a secrecy groove. It’s fun. It makes what you do feel important. It smacks of black SUVs with tinted windows. But the truth is it’s very often totally unnecessary.

(Speaking of the brothers Rose, this 2007 article, now available only in an ugly cached version, is rather hilarious in light of more recent events. Features writers beware: Think before you post that puff piece.)

(HT: Dr. Saturday.) 

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