Protecting Transparency in College Sports

Utah Panel Orders Release of Contract Details

A recent order issued by the State Records Committee in Utah has determined that college athletes’ Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) contracts become public records under state law when they are shared with a university. The ruling requires five Division I schools in Utah to release the requested contracts, including the athlete’s name, sport, compensation, and the name of the business involved. Personal information such as addresses and contact details can be redacted, but commercial information can only be redacted if the contract includes a confidentiality claim. The universities have 30 days to appeal the ruling.

Public’s Right to Know

The committee’s decision emphasizes the public’s interest in college sports and the revenue generated by public institutions. Since universities monitor college athlete NIL deals to ensure NCAA compliance, the public has a right to know if they are properly performing that compliance function. While colleges across the country have previously considered NIL contracts as education records under federal privacy laws, the Utah committee’s ruling sets a new precedent by rejecting that argument.

Understanding the Decision

Balancing Privacy and Public Interest

The panel considered the origin of the term “student-athlete” and acknowledged the strong opinions surrounding the release of student contracts. However, they emphasized that NIL contracts are not entered into by high school or junior high athletes but by legal adults playing sports for a public institution. Given the public interest in college sports and the role of compliance officers in reviewing contracts, the committee concluded that disclosing the contracts serves the public’s interest.

Expectation of Privacy vs. Commercial Nature

The committee also reasoned that college athletes, who sign contracts to profit from their name, image, and likeness, lose some expectation of privacy. Additionally, they argued that NIL contracts are commercial in nature and not institutional education records. The contracts pertain to the athlete’s name, image, likeness, athletic ability, and requirements under the agreement, rather than academic records or personal information.

Implications and Cases in other States

Call for Transparency Across the Nation

The Utah committee’s decision joins efforts for transparency in college sports. Last year, ESPN requested NIL-related information from 23 universities, but few records were provided. A court ruling in September 2022 confirmed that NIL agreements are education records but allowed for the discussion of adequate redaction. Other cases, such as the one involving Louisiana State University, have presented challenges regarding public records and privacy laws.

Advocating Legislative Action

The Utah panel acknowledged potential concerns about their decision and stated that if public policy dictated restricting access to NIL contracts, legislative processes would be more suitable than committee interpretations. Balancing transparency and privacy remains a complex issue that calls for ongoing discussions and collaboration.

In conclusion, the Utah panel’s decision prioritizes transparency and the public’s right to know, setting an example for the treatment of NIL contracts and promoting accountability in college sports.