Two news organizations sued two Southeastern Conference universities for refusing to turn over details of the contracts signed by student athletes to profit off the use of their name, image and likeness, which became permissible under new NCAA guidelines in June.
A TV station and a newspaper have filed separate lawsuits against Louisiana State University and the University of Georgia for refusing to supply details of NIL contracts signed by student athletes, Sportico reported. Both LSU and UGA cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, in denying public records requests to turn over NIL disclosure forms that student athletes are required to submit when signing deals with sponsors.
The first public records lawsuit was filed in October by Gray Media, the parent company of six Louisiana TV stations, including WFAB-TV in Baton Rouge, which initially made the request for NIL disclosure documents. In petitioning the court to release those records, attorneys for Gray Media argued that Louisiana’s NIL law does not include a public records exemption and that the “overwhelming public interest” in LSU athletics and NIL contracts far outweigh the right to privacy. However, a judge ultimately ruled against the TV station’s petition, and Sportico reported that an attorney for Gray Media did not comment on the possibility of an appeal.
The Athens Banner-Herald made a similar complaint against the UGA Athletic Association. The newspaper alleged that the school violated the Georgia Open Records Act by not turning over copies of NIL disclosure documents for UGA student athletes. That complaint, filed this month, remains open. According to Sportico, the university has 30 days to respond to the newspaper’s complaint and 45 days to respond to discovery requests.
Outside observers weighed in on the cases on social media. Andrew Bondarowicz, a sports law professor at Rutgers University, tweeted, “This will be a very interesting outcome … FERPA is meant to protect educational privacy. But what is educational about a commercial deal?”
Similarly, Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida, tweeted, “Congress has been needing to clarify and narrow FERPA for a very long time. Maybe this will (finally) do the trick: Some colleges are hiding behind FERPA to conceal NIL contracts with athletes.”
The Sportico article also notes that other journalists have reported FERPA challenges in unearthing NIL contract details, with the University of Nevada releasing redacted information. Likewise, independent journalist Andy Wittry reported that multiple colleges, including Louisiana Tech University, Eastern Carolina University and the University of Iowa, cited FERPA to deny his FOIA requests for NIL disclosures, while other colleges released redacted information.