WASHINGTON – The University of Maryland must disclose its employment contracts with its head football and basketball coaches, but private contracts between the coaches and “outside sources” may not be public information — yet.
The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court should privately review contracts that football coach Ralph Friedgen and men’s basketball coach Gary Williams hold with third parties to see if the contracts are so “intimately connected” to their jobs that they are subject to the state’s public information act.
The ruling, issued Thursday, partially settles a two-year-old dispute between the University System of Maryland and The (Baltimore) Sun, which sued to get the coaches’ base salaries and bonuses.
“We’re glad that the citizens of Maryland get to see these contracts and get to see the terms and conditions of these contracts,” said Mary R. Craig, a lawyer who represented The Sun.
The university argued that it was only required to reveal the actual salaries paid by the state. The university had access to the men’s third-party contracts, which have to be reported to the NCAA, but school officials claimed that they were prohibited by privacy laws from revealing details of those contracts.
In its opinion, the court said that contracts between the university and its coaches are ultimately state business transactions.
“While it may not fall neatly into the definition of salary, a contract setting out the rights and responsibilities of each party to it and the circumstances and conditions governing the coaches’ entitlement to receive the salary is not only . . . public business, but it certainly informs and gives context to ‘salary,'” said Chief Judge Robert M. Bell in the majority opinion.
But on the issue of third-party contracts — money the coaches earn from endorsement deals or speaking engagements, for example — the court said the university must turn those over to the Prince George’s County Circuit Court, which will decide in private whether they are subject to the information act.
“If the court determines that Coach Williams is receiving payments from companies solely as a result of his position as coach at UMCP, and that the income is intimately connected to his activities as coach of UMCP, then that income is part of his compensation and subject to disclosure,” Bell said.
In a partial dissent, Judge Glenn Harrell said he did not see how third-party income could ever be so “intimately connected . . . to the coaches’ employment by the state as to morph into a part of the salary paid by the state.” Because of that, he argued, the university should not even have to hand over the outside contracts to a court for review, arguing that it is an “unwarranted invasion” of privacy.
The case began in 2002, when former Sun sportswriter Jon Morgan asked for the university’s contract with Friedgen, as well as any terms for bonuses and incentives.
The school responded with Friedgen’s salary — $179,753 at the time — but refused to release the other documents. After The Sun threatened to sue, Friedgen agreed to let the university provide the total sum of his bonuses and incentives — $762,000.
In the meantime, The Sun sought the same information for Williams, along with his third-party contracts. Williams’ base salary was $202,991, but bonuses and other incentives for “competitive achievement, automobile allowance and radio, television and personal appearances,” added $540,400 to that amount.
The university argued that Williams’ income from outside sources constituted personal financial information that is not part of his salary as a state employee.
In September 2002, the Prince George’s County Circuit Court ruled in favor of The Sun, ordering the university to disclose both its full contracts with the two coaches as well as the contracts between the third parties.
Morgan, now an editor with The Sun, said he was “delighted” with the appeals court ruling, echoing the court’s argument that the public has a right to know how some of the highest-paid state employees earn their money.
“Only by looking at the contracts can we see where the University of Maryland apportions their priorities,” he said.
The university and its athletic department, as well as Williams and Friedgen, were not available for comment Thursday.
-30- CNS 04-15-04