Sports Law Blog
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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Court: Coaches' Salaries are Public: Maryland's top appellate court has held that the salary information of coaches at public schools and universities is public information and must be made available. The suit dealt with the coaching contracts of University of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams and football coach Ralph Friedgen. While the university made available the amounts paid to the two coaches, it refused to release the contract specifics, saying the information represented a private dealing. The court ruled otherwise, saying that the actual contracts themselves are public records.

    This court is not persuaded by the appellants' personnel records argument. Moreover, the MPIA clearly requires, as all of the parties agree, the disclosure of the "salary of an employee of a unit or instrumentality of State government." That certainly would include the dollar amount paid. W e believe that the requirement must include, in addition, disclosure of any document evidencing the employment arrangement and how the state-funded salary is earned.

The ruling could have implications beyond the sports world. Many legal experts believe the ruling makes available the contracts of every taxpayer-funded employee in Maryland, revealing all the benefits and perks often bestowed on such officials as college presidents. Eric B. Easton, a media law professor at the University of Baltimore, said of the decision: "I don't see anything in [this ruling] that necessarily limits it to these two coaches or athletic coaches generally."

The court also discussed the issue of coaches' contracts with third parties, such as apparel manufacturers. The opinion noted that many of these agreements were for "private business affairs" and nothing in the law required their disclosure. However, the court pointed out that many of these contracts may be "so connected with, and related to, the coach's public employment as to be, in effect, authorized by, and thus, a part of, the University contract." In determining if the details of a third-party contract need to be revealed:

    The terms of the third party contract must be reviewed in order to determine whether the income derived by that contract is closely connected with, and related to, the coach's employment with the University, to determine, in other words, whether, but for the coach's employment with the University, the third party contract would not have been made, or many of its terms included.

The court did not decide the issue, but rather remanded it to the lower court for a determination of the relationship between the third-party contracts and the coach's positions.

I agree with the first part of the court's decision, but not the second. Salaries paid to the coach's come out of public money, and the public has a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. This could encourage universities to include performance clauses tied to player graduation or academic performance, items people may be more willing to pay for. I do not, however, believe that agreements with third-parties should be made public. No tax dollars are funding these contracts, and thus, I do not see the public interest that outweighs the coaches' right to privacy. The public often has an insatiable thirst to know, but some limits must be imposed, no matter how public the figure.

You can read the full opinion here.


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