According to Mark Armstrong at WTVD, on Thursday UNC will release unredacted phone records and parking ticket information sought by a group of media outlets after the State Court of Appeals vacated a stay issued by a lower court that allowed UNC to continue to withhold the documents until an appeal was heard.
District Court Judge Howard Manning ruled in May that the information sought by the media is not privileged information under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). However Manning did allow that UNC could hold onto the records until the appeal could be heard. Wednesday's ruling overturned that decision and then the University faced a choice of whether to comply with the ruling or appeal to the State Supreme Court. Apparently UNC has decided to get it over with and release the records.
There is no need to rehash the pertinent details or motivations at play in the case, as that has already been covered in this space here. But it is interesting to analyze the game of chicken that UNC played between the NCAA and the media outlets who are suing to have access to this information.
Here at THF, we have always maintained that the NCAA is most likely well aware of the information contained in the phone records and parking tickets, as UNC has by all accounts been completely cooperative with the NCAA. But UNC is eager to have the story of violations crafted by the NCAA report, and not by the media. The media, of course, is eager to name names and sell newspapers by crafting the story themselves.
Rewind about ten days to the somewhat bizarre release of information regarding UNC's impending letter of inquiry. The suggestion was tossed out that, by getting out the expected number of infractions and the fact that the NCAA had twice before promised a notice of allegations and not delivered, pressure would be put on the NCAA to follow through this time.
But it is also plausible that UNC knew the Court of Appeals was going to rule on the stay this week. If the NCAA's notice of allegations came out before the records had to be released to the media, then the story remains more about the NOA and less about the records themselves.
Of course, the NCAA moves at their own sometimes glacial pace and for whatever reason has played Lucy pulling out the football from UNC's Charlie Brown yet again with the NOA. UNC faced a PR nightmare in deciding whether or not to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. Despite the chance that they really are fighting for the principle of student records being protected under FERPA, continuing to fight this ruling makes it look like UNC is hiding something. To borrow from one of my favorite movies, "A Few Good Men" (skip to 5:13 if you're interested), you appeal once to keep the media at bay and to get the fight for FERPA on the record. You keep after it, and it looks like UNC is afraid of what's in the phone records and parking tickets. Apparently UNC decided to cut its losses and get it over with.
It would appear that UNC has lost the gamesmanship on this issue, meaning the media will be searching for Pulitzers while ABCers are hoping these records are the Pentagon Papers. For what it's worth, even some of the local media don't think there will be much in the records. But it should be entertaining however it turns out, and this is one step closer to closure on the whole thing.