ESPN sues University of Arizona for records related to basketball bribery scandal

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ESPN is suing the University of Arizona and the Arizona Board of Regents because they refuse to turn over NCAA records related to allegations against one of the school’s assistant basketball coaches who went to federal prison in a bribery scandal. 

The suit stems from a 2017 indictment of former UofA basketball coach Book Richardson, who pleaded guilty in 2019 as part of an FBI bribery investigation that included coaches from several other universities.  

The university is refusing to disclose the Notice of Allegations issued from the NCAA related to the university’s program. The NOA was sent to the university in October 2020 after the NCAA conducted its own investigation into the bribery scandal. 

The NOA is alleged to contain nine different violations, but the document has not been made public. Other universities have made their NOAs public

On Nov. 3, ESPN reporter Mark Schlabach filed a public records request for the NOA, but the university denied it, saying it was in the “best interest of the state” to withhold the document and let the NCAA investigation continue to play out. 

The university has asked for the enforcement of the allegations to be resolved through the NCAA’s Independent Accountability Resolution Process. The university has cited this process as a reason to deny the records. 

“As a result of that request, there remains the possibility of additional investigation by the NCAA,” the university’s response to ESPN’s record request says. “Therefore, at this time, and in accordance with NCAA bylaws, the University is not releasing the notice of allegations (NOA) as it is in the best interest of the state for any additional investigation to be completed before disclosures are made.” 

Two weeks ago, ESPN sent a demand letter to the university stating that the NOA should be produced, but the university again denied the request, citing NCAA bylaws, and reaffirmed that it plans to release the NOA when the investigation is complete. 

“The University has not explained how some future investigation by the IARP could be ‘hampered or undermined’ by the public disclosure of the NOA, nor has it demonstrated that any such hampering or undermining would outweigh the strong presumption in public disclosure under the (public record law),” lawyers representing ESPN say in the suit. 

ESPN’s attorneys contend that the university has violated Arizona public record law, as the NOA is in the university’s possession and there is a strong presumption for its disclosure. 

“[T]he University’s justification for withholding the NOA consists entirely of ‘generalities’ and lacks any ‘factual basis,’” the lawyers argue.

 “The board does not comment on pending litigation,” Sarah Harper, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Board of Regents, told Arizona Mirror.