Md. high court rules university must disclose athletic coaches’ contracts

MARYLAND — The University of Maryland at College Parkmust make public the details of its employment contracts with athletic coachesat the school, the Court of Appeals of Maryland said in a 7-0 decision April15.Journalists and open-government advocates applauded the ruling,saying that it could allow for greater public oversight of how publicuniversities in the state spend their money.The ruling by thestate’s highest court ends a two-year battle between The BaltimoreSun and the University of Maryland at College Park that began when a sportsreporter for the paper requested the employment contract information of headfootball coach Ralph Friedgen under the Maryland Public Information Act. TheBaltimore Sun later requested similar information related to Gary Williams,head coach of the men’s basketball team.In addition toFriedgen’s contract, The Baltimore Sun requested “anyseparate letters of understanding, side letters or similar documents specifyingincentives, bonuses, broadcast agreements, athletic footwear contracts, andother matters concerning the terms and conditions of [Coach Friedgen’s]employment and compensation.”The University of Maryland, however,denied the request, citing exemptions in state open-records law protectingpersonnel records and some financial information from disclosure.Undermedia scrutiny, Friedgen voluntarily disclosed that his base salary was $179,753during the 2001-2002 school year. That figure was augmented by car allowances,endorsements and “competitive achievement” incentives.TheBaltimore Sun’s request related to Williams sought all informationrelated to his position as head coach, including “any contract or otherrecord describing the payment of any incentive, bonuses, broadcast fees,athletic clothing or footwear fees to Williams by the University or any thirdparty.” The paper also asked for “any report or other record of anyathletically related compensation received by Williams from any source outsidethe University.”The University of Maryland denied that request aswell, prompting the paper to file suit in the Circuit Court for PrinceGeorge’s County in 2002.“The statute says the salary of apublic employee is a matter of public record, but the school took the positionthat all they needed to do was give us the number … They wouldn’t let ussee the contract,” said Mary R. Craig, the paper’s attorney.“We wanted to actually see the contracts so that we could see what thecompensation structure was and understand the numbers better.”Thedecision gives The Baltimore Sun access to the university’scontract with the coaches under state open-records law. Since the ruling, theuniversity is working on fulfilling The Baltimore Sun’s request andrequests it has received in recent days from other media outlets, said GeorgeCathcart, a spokesman for the University of Maryland.The ruling’simplications, however, extend beyond the state’s institutions of higherlearning.“Beyond the university, anyone who is employed by thestate, any of the counties or any local government, their employment contractswill have to be released,” Craig said.The Court of Appeals ofMaryland also ruled in a 6-1 decision that third-party contracts between coachesand private corporations may or may not be disclosed, depending on the nature ofthose contracts. The court sent that portion of the case back to the CircuitCourt for Prince George’s County for review.“[Whether thethird-party agreements must be disclosed] will depend on what the contract saysand how closely related to [Friedgen’s and Williams’] publicemployment the compensation under the third-party contracts is,” Craigsaid.For example, if a third-party contract compensates coaches whentheir sports teams exclusively wear a certain manufacturer’s uniformduring games, “the court may find that the financial benefit to the coachis directly related to the coach’s status with the University,”making the contract public, the court said.If, however, the courtdecides that payments a coach receives from third-party contracts “are notso connected with or related to his activities as coach of UMCP as to render thecontract proceeds a part of his official compensation, the contract is notsubject to disclosure.”Craig expects the Circuit Court for PrinceGeorge’s County to hear that portion of the case sometime after May15.

University System of Maryland,et al. v. The Baltimore Sun Company, Case No. CAE02-06069 (Prince George’s Co. Md. Cir. Ct. App. April 15, 2004)

(Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader to view document.)