New Georgia law would be stricter than other states

New Georgia football coach Kirby Smart is greeted by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle at the state capitol on Tuesday. Smart was introduced and spoke briefly to state legislators.

ATHENS – Georgia suddenly is on the verge of amending state law that would supposedly help the University of Georgia football program by allowing it to more slowly release athletic records. The reasoning, according to State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, is “it just allows us to play on the same field as Alabama and everybody else.”

Ehrhart.

Ehrhart is a University of Georgia graduate.

The only problem with that is that most “everybody else” are in line with Georgia’s current, more transparent law.

As for Alabama, while it does have a vague statute on how quickly its schools should respond, its media there scoff at the idea that less transparency is why Nick Saban (with Kirby Smart as his assistant) won four national championships in nine years.

“I cannot see any relationship between Open Records Laws and winning football games,” said Tuscaloosa News executive sports editor Tommy Deas. “People win football games every week in different states that have different laws. Alabama has been successful, but it has a lot more to do with Nick Saban’s coaching and Alabama’s recruiting than it does with any law. I would say that’s absurd.”

Georgia’s current law is that a school must produce a requested record within three days, or provide a timetable at that time. A bill that Ehrhart co-sponsored is now on Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk, and would expand that to 90 days. That would severely hinder the ability of the media to provide real-time watchdog ability on athletics departments and teams, according to media members and open records advocates.

A survey of other state bylaws shows that most other schools in the SEC’s footprint have pretty short response times:

  • Tennessee: Seven days.
  • South Carolina: Fifteen days.
  • Mississippi: Seven days to respond and acknowledge the receipt of the request. Fourteen days to fulfill it.
  • Louisiana: Three days.
  • Texas: Ten days.
  • Missouri: Three days.
  • Kentucky: Three days.

In all of the above cases, those are business days, excluding weekends and holidays.

The meaning of “respond” can vary, as in sometimes the response could be that they will need more time to fulfill the request. For instance, Mississippi’s law provides 14 days to fulfill the request.

Florida and Alabama are the outliers. Each state stipulates that the response time must be “reasonable.” The University of Florida responds to many of its requests slowly, according to one beat writer contacted for this story.

As for Alabama, where Smart worked the past nine years, “they get to decide what’s reasonable,” according to Deas.

“On some things the University of Alabama is pretty quick,” Deas said. “But that is generally things like contracts, and easily available and nothing-t0-hide type things. That includes coach contracts, game contracts. Those tend to be sometimes a few hours, or a day or two. Other things, they are not as quick to react.”

Deas has a request in right now that is two months old, asking for financial information and athletic department bonus information related to the college football playoff trips. There are things Deas has asked for that he still hasn’t received. One dates back to 2010.

“It can be frustrating,” Deas said. “Because the law is worded in such a way that it is open-ended, because of who says what a reasonable amount of time is.”

Auburn has also tended to slow-play many requests, or released a request at a busy time. Three years ago, for instance, Auburn released its self-reported NCAA secondary violations three hours before kickoff of its football game against Georgia. The school has yet to release secondary violations for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which was supposed to be sent to the NCAA last July.

But where Georgia will be unique is in having a separate state law for athletic departments, with protecting the Bulldogs – and specifically its football team – the stated aim.

Deas, who has watched and chronicled Saban’s run at Alabama, laughed at that.

“Didn’t (Georgia) just win a swimming national championship with an open sunshine law?” he said. “That must’ve been because you didn’t make enough open records requests.”

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