Maryland high court rules that coaches’ employment contracts with public universities are public records; coaches’ contracts related to their work may also be public. The court also ruled that contracts between coaches and third parties, such as shoe manufacturers, may also be public records when they are sufficiently related to the coaches’ public employment.
College coaches’ contracts are public records
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
BALTIMORE (April 20, 2004) — The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, ruled last week that coaches’ employment contracts with state universities are public records. The court also ruled that contracts between coaches and third parties, such as shoe manufacturers, may also be public records when they are sufficiently related to the coaches’ public employment.
Colleges and universities, both public and private, are required under NCAA rules — but not by state law — to keep records of such third-party contracts.
In 2002 sports reporter Jon Morgan of The (Baltimore) Sun invoked the Maryland Public Information Act to ask for employment contracts, broadcast agreements, athletic footwear contracts and related documents for University of Maryland head football coach Ralph Friedgen. The newspaper later amended the request to include head basketball coach Gary Williams.
The university disclosed the salary amounts — $183,920 for Friedgen and $202,991 for Williams — but refused to disclose the actual contracts or other requested information, citing exemptions to the Public Information Act for personal financial and personnel information. When the newspaper asked the university to reconsider, it disclosed the total amounts of other compensation– $762,000 for Friedgen, $540,400 plus undisclosed apparel/endorsement amounts for Williams — but not the contracts.
The newspaper filed suit in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County in Upper Marlboro. In September 2002, that court ruled that because “salary” is unambiguously included within the act’s definition of “public record,” the employment contracts must be disclosed. The university appealed.
The high court ruled Thursday that coaches’ contracts with the university must be disclosed because salaries are public records and the contracts are essential to the public’s understanding of why the coaches are paid those salaries. Because salaries are public records, the exemption for personal financial information does not apply. The exemption for personnel records also does not apply because employment contracts are not in the nature of a performance evaluation, the court held.
“As with any employment opportunity, there are both benefits and burdens,” wrote Chief Judge Robert M. Bell.
Bell ruled that coaches’ contracts with third parties are public records only when they are so closely related to their public employment that “but for the coach’s employment with the university, the third party contract would not have been made.” Bell said contracts which require team members to wear shoes or clothing during games would be sufficiently related. Contracts prompted by the status of coach, but not related to such activities, would not be.
The high court sent the case back to the circuit court to review the contracts and decide if they were sufficiently related to Friedgen and Williams’s coaching activities to be considered public records.
Eric B. Easton, a media law professor at the University of Baltimore, said he believes the ruling applies broadly to the employment contracts of all public employees.
“I don’t see anything in [this ruling] that necessarily limits it to these two coaches or athletic coaches generally,” he told The Sun.
(University System of Maryland v. The Baltimore Sun; Media Counsel: Mary R. Craig, Towson)