TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The NCAA must release documents on Florida State's appeal of an academic cheating penalty, a Florida judge ruled Friday, noting that the NCAA's rationale for keeping the documents secret would "emasculate" the state's broad public access laws.
Circuit Judge John C. Cooper ordered that the copies be turned over to The Associated Press and other media, which filed a public records lawsuit.
The documents focus on Florida State's appeal of a plan to strip coaches and athletes of wins in 10 sports, including 14 from football coach Bobby Bowden. It would dim Bowden's chances of surpassing Penn State's Joe Paterno for most wins by a major college coach. Bowden has 382 victories -- one behind Penn State's Joe Paterno.
Karen Kaiser, an attorney for the AP, said the news organization is "thrilled with the court's decision, which upholds the right of the people to access important public documents such as these. We look forward to receiving the documents that the court has said we are entitled to receive."
The NCAA in a statement said it is reviewing the court's order and discussing its options. It plans to appeal to a state appeals court and ask to block the release until it can rule. Florida State had no immediate comment.
The news organizations sued for access to records that include the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions' response to Florida State's appeal. The school is being penalized because 61 athletes in several sports received improper help from staffers who gave them answers to an online music test or typed papers for them.
The media lawsuit accused the NCAA, Florida State, school officials and a law firm working for the university of participating in "a scheme created to avoid public access."
The NCAA had posted documents about the scandal on a secured Web site for FSU's lawyers to read. Because FSU and its attorneys never had physical control of the documents, the school and the NCAA argued that they were not subject to Florida's broad public records law.
But Cooper disagreed, writing that siding with the NCAA's argument would "emasculate" the state's public records law and "would provide clever proponents of secret communication with government an easy mechanism for avoiding the public's right to know what its government is doing." He also rejected the argument that the release would violate the students' privacy, noting that the news organizations have agreed that their names can be redacted and that the documents primarily discuss the conduct of Florida State employees.
"Allowing universities to keep secret any record that mentions a student would allow universities to operate in secret and contrary to Florida law," Cooper wrote.