Former U.S. Senator James L. Buckley told the Columbus Dispatch that it's time for Congress to rein in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which he crafted to keep academic records from public view.
The Dispatch sent public-records requests for athletics-related documents to 119 Division I-A colleges. The goal was to gauge their openness and use of the FERPA law and study the conflicting interpretations of the law.
The requests sought airplane flight manifests for football-team travel to road games; lists of people designated to receive athletes' complimentary admission to football games; football players' summer-employment documents; and reports of NCAA violations.
Only 69 schools provided information, and Maryland wanted $35,330 to produce the same documents that more than half the schools provided free (link to other schools that charged a big fee).
According to the Dispatch, of the 69 schools that replied:
"• More than 80 percent released unedited information from ticket lists.
• About half did not censor flight manifests.
• Twenty percent gave full information about summer jobs held by football players.
• Ten percent provided unedited NCAA violations.
The results stunned Buckley, a retired federal judge from Connecticut who, as a U.S. senator, crafted the law to shield students' report cards and transcripts. He can't understand why any information about athletes would be withheld.
'Those examples provide zero harm to the kids,' he said."
The privacy extended to athletes who have gambled, accepted payoffs, cheated, cashed in on their notoriety, and even sexually abused others. It was used for coaches who broke recruiting rules or committed academic fraud and even rogue boosters. And get this: It was even extended to an ESPN broadcaster named in school records.
"That's not what we intended," Buckley, 86, said. "The law needs to be revamped. Institutions are putting their own meaning into the law."
Florida blacked out nearly every word of NCAA violations involving its football and basketball teams, but it didn't censor as heavily such details about other sports.
Nebraska, Nevada and West Virginia refused to release any documents on NCAA violations in the name of student privacy.
Utah State and Texas A&M didn't withhold or censor any information. See how your team did by clicking here.
The hometown Ohio State Buckeyes didn't get off easy. Since 2000, Ohio State has reported to the NCAA more than 375 violations — the most of any of the 69 BCS teams that provided documents to the Dispatch.
Jill Riepenhoff and Todd Jones write: "The public likely will never know the specifics, because records of all the violations were heavily edited by Ohio State in the name of student privacy. Ohio State says the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ties its hands. If OSU releases what it thinks is private information, the U.S. Department of Education could withhold federal funding."
Other links off the Dispatch story:
Rule breakers: Nearly 85% of I-A teams have violated major NCAA rules.
Violations from across the country: The story behind the story.
The whistleblowers: They are often ostracized by fans, their communities and universities.
Violations at Ohio State: There are many.
Benjamin J. Marrison: The editor of the Dispatch discusses the series.