Wednesday, September 17, 2014

ESPN-MAC Secret Contract Update

Wow - it's a 13 year contract between ESPN and the MAC worth more than $100 million for the universities in the Mid-American Conference, and the University of Akron says it does not have a copy of the contract.

Here's what the University of Akron sent to Kent State student journalist Richie Mulhall.

How do you suppose it's possible for a public university not to have a copy of a contract that involves its participation for the next thirteen years?   What does the president of the University of Akron think of that?  The MAC says all universities agreed to a confidentiality clause.   How can a university agree to a confidentiality clause on a contract and not have a copy?


In Ohio. the public records law dictates that records must be kept in a manner they can be made "readily available."   That generally means they have to be available the same business day, particularly for current records.   This is a current contract.   Obviously, the Athletic Director (or the AD's business manager) would certainly know where a contract this important is.   It will be on a computer.   To click on the document, hit attach, add the email address and hit send takes less than 60 seconds.   

Here's the public records request student journalist Richie Mulhall submitted to the Kent State University Athletic Department on September 10th.   Richie still hasn't received a response.

As Richie's public records request correctly points out, the fact that a university signed a confidentiality clause is irrelevant.   A confidentiality clause can not trump state law; and in Ohio, contracts with public universities are public record.  Is this contract a good deal or a bad deal?   The only way for Ohio taxpayers to know is to review it.  The University of Akron says it doesn't have a copy.  Hopefully, Kent State does and will provide it to student journalist Richie Mulhall as required under Ohio law. 



  1. Make the request to the universities' Communications Offices (not Athletics) and carbon-copy the universities' Presidents Offices. It is the Presidents who direct the MAC. In this way, the presidents will obligate the MAC to release the contract.

  2. First, there is no "same day" rule in public records law in Ohio. Second, if they do have it and do not produce it, they have to cite the exception in the law that allows them to withhold. If I had it and didn't want to produce it, I would withhold it under the Trade Secret exception. Last, if you think they have it, file a mandamus action.

    1. No, there is no same-day rule, but current records are generally obtainable the same business day - everything in the recorders office, everything in the auditor's office, police incident reports, etc. And one doesn't simply file a mandamus action without taking the necessary depositions if one wants to make sure the case is won. The advice of going to the communications office is not what should be done. You always want to public records request to go to the department that has the record. Your handbook for Ohio's Public Records law: Access With Attitude

    2. How would you get someone to sit down for a deposition without filing a mandamus action with the court? If you feel records are unlawfully being denied, your only legal recourse is filing an action (or the new mediation through the Attorney General's Office).

    3. Very exciting contributions guys! Nice jobs, both of you. Big high fives.

      (no one cares about what you're saying except you)

  3. Not every NBA team has a copy of the league's television agreements. It'd be pretty insane for both the leagues and the rightsholders to hand them out like candy.

  4. I'm pretty sure when I attended Kent State's School of Journalism and Mass Communication, one of the things that I learned was if you want to request information from someone, you probably should have the name of their institution correct. Technically, Mr. Campbell's response to Mr. Mulhall is correct: Akron University does not have a copy of the contract because THERE IS NO AKRON UNIVERSITY.

    Keep up the good work teaching those students, Karl - maybe we can get more instances like this and my diploma will officially be worth less than a roll of Charmin.

  5. Point of clarification - I should have said you don't file a mandamus action without taking into account the COST of taking the depositions you need. It's not unusual for the cost of a mandamus action to run $100,000 to $250,000. One of the great losses for democracy has been the loss of news organizations with budgets required to fight for open records. The benefit of filing the mandamus directly to the Supreme Court is that it cannot be appealed. That's why it is so essential that you win. Trying to do that on the cheap is an extremely high-risk strategy.

  6. You can FOIA this, which you should have done first instead of asking the parties that have no interest in letting that information go willingly. The details of this contract are certainly stored with the federal gov, or at least can be extrapolated from tax data.

    Of course, if you actually did the FOIA request, it probably wouldn't give you the blogspam you're looking for to drive traffic here.

  7. FOIA is for federal - it's the Freedom of Information Act. For a state public records request, one cites the state's public records law. The details of a contract with a state agency are not stored with the Federal Government. It does not matter what the public agencies want. State law dictates what is and is not a public record. The state agency can decide whether it wishes to obey the law or violate it. That's why it would be a waste of time to request a copy of the contract from ESPN. ESPN is a corporation and not subject to public records law. Ohio University and Kent State University and Bowling Green University are all public universities and subject to the public records act (ORC 149.43) in Ohio. MAC universities in Michigan are governed under Michigan's public records law.


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