Report: B1G presidents, leaders avoided open records laws when discussing 2020 season
Last summer and fall, Big Ten presidents were hard at work collaborating on a plan to stage a 2020 football season
But according a report, they took steps to keep that process away from the public eye.
Per the Washington Post’s Emily Giambalvo and Rick Maese, Big Ten presidents frequently took their conversations from E-mail to a “Big Ten portal” that they view as being exempt from open records laws.
Here’s an excerpt from the Washington Post’s report, which includes emails from Wisconsin chancellor Rebecca Blank and Michigan president Mark Schlissel.
“I would be delighted to share information,” Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank responded in an email chain begun in August by Michigan President Mark Schlissel, “but perhaps we can do this through the Big 10 portal, which will assure confidentiality?”
The next day, Schlissel told his colleagues: “Just FYI — I am working with Big Ten staff to move the conversation to secure Boardvantage web site we use for league materials. Will advise.”
According to statements in the story, spokesmen from Michigan and Wisconsin denied that the universities were attempting to avoid open records laws.
Thirteen of the 14 universities in the Big Ten are public universities, with Northwestern being the only exception. The 13 public programs are bound by the Freedom of Information Act. However, the Big Ten conference itself is private, and is not obligated to adhere to open records laws.
The Big Ten, of course, did eventually stage a season last fall. It will be interesting to see if the details of how that decision was made — and the previous decision to cancel a fall campaign — will ever come to light.
According to experts interviewed by the Washington Post in this report, conversations on a Big Ten server should not be exempt from open records laws.
“The courts have generally come down on the idea that if it’s a public official communicating public business, then those communications would be subject to the law, subject to disclosure,” said David Cuillier, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Arizona and an expert on the Freedom of Information Act. “And none of these workarounds to hide from the public are going to hold water.”