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Media Would Like to See Butch Davis' 216 Phone Records

The vexing question is did they say "pretty please"?

The local media organizations, which previously brought lawsuits against UNC to gain access to various records associated with the NCAA investigation into Tar Heel football, have now set their sights on former coach Butch Davis subpoenaing his much talked about personal cell phone records. As you might recall, during his tenure at UNC, Davis was issued a cell phone paid for by the university as was the case with his entire staff. Davis opted to not use that phone and instead continued to use a personal cell phone which had a 216 area code. That area code is from Ohio which means Davis probably acquired it during his stint as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. After he left the Browns he simply never changed the number for obvious reasons, the foremost being changing your phone number is a huge pain.

During the course of the NCAA investigation, the issue of Davis' personal phone a hot topic. Since it was a personal phone, it was not open to the same public access laws the UNC issued phones were. Since UNC was not paying the bill(as far as we know) they had no access to the record of calls. Davis did eventually provide them access but the records were reviewed by outside counsel retained by UNC who then reported back. This is speculation but I am guessing UNC provided counsel with a list of numbers to check for or a period of time to look at. According to UNC the review revealed nothing out of the ordinary. UNC never had the records for review themselves nor did anyone on staff at UNC see them effectively isolating the records from any public access claims. The one bugaboo in all of this is Davis said he would release the records to the media but a few days later was fired by Chancllor Holden Thorp. In short, the way the review was handled, the fact UNC said the records were clean without showing the records and Davis getting fired shortly after he said he would released them thus stopping their release is a Golden Corral buffet for the ABC Conspiracy Monster that lives in an abandoned warehouse just off the NC State campus.

Now the media has decided to go after these records having served Davis with a subpoena. No word on if said subpoena was served to Davis in the Blue Zone on Saturday. The question now is why? Here are a few possibilities:

1. UNC engaged in a cover-up and lied about the results of the outside counsel review of the 216 records.

This is really what should worry UNC if it turns out to be true. UNC says the records were reviewed and nothing the NCAA would care about was present. The question the media is after here is whether UNC lied about it. If so, that would constitute a "big deal" to have officials of a public university lie to everyone about what was in Davis' records. Granted this is not Watergate here but it would smack of a cover-up on UNC's part and set off a PR firestorm that would be incredibly difficult to control. In that respect, the media is doing their job in investigating whether a school is being forthright with the taxpayers who foot the bill.

2. The story is dying and needs new life

Let's be real. This story has been slowly moving away from the public eye since the season started. Only two more significant events will bring it to the forefront again and those only briefly. Despite Dan Kane's best efforts, there really isn't much left to talk about here. However, getting the Davis' 216 records might reveal a burgeoning scandal at best and at worst gives the local media another piece or two filled with inference and implication while proving nothing.

3. The media is out to win precedent on access to public records

The media wants as much access as the law will allow them. In one sense some of these legal actions are not about UNC football nor has UNC stonewalling been about protecting the football program. Both the media and UNC have engaged in their respective sides. In this case, the media would love to get a State of North Carolina judge to rule a personal cell phone on which "state business" was conducted is subject to public records laws. Not because they care about Davis' phone calls though that could provide something juicy. This is about getting a state official's cell phone records or something along those line. The media is suing to expand the law and when it was against UNC, the administration was suing to reduce the scope of the law. Both are protecting their own interests and for the media there is a bigger agenda at play.

In addition to what the media is after, the other pertinent question is what does this mean for UNC and the NCAA investigation. The answer is not much as it pertains to the current proceedings. The current probe will play out on October 28th at the Committee on Infractions hearing and then the final report. What may or may not be in the 216 records will have little bearing on the current process. Could the records create future issues for UNC assuming they come to light? Possibly but it is important to remember a couple of things. First, the 216 records have been a topic of discussion for months now. Even before the notice of allegations were delivered, interested parties have had Davis' phone records on their radar. Likewise the NCAA was also aware these records existed. All indications are, based on what UNC said in the days after Davis was fired, is the NCAA never saw the records either but UNC did a review which produced nothing out of the ordinary. From that I am assuming UNC told the NCAA the same and the NCAA chose not to pursue it further. Also factor in the fact the NCAA does indeed ask for personal cell phones. They did so in their recent action against LSU and hit an assistant coach with a one year show-cause over ethical conduct violation for not producing a personal cell phone when asked.

That leaves several possibilities: The NCAA didn't kn0w(unlikely), didn't care(also unlikely), did know and relied on UNC's report(probable) or saw the records themselves and no one has said so(maybe.) My point is, the 216 records should have already been factored into the equation. That is unless the NCAA, who was willing to dig into Robert Quinn's text messages, all of sudden decided to ignore the fact Davis was making all his phone calls on a personal cell phone. I would be surprised given how much UNC turned over and how much the NCAA looked into the principals involved that the 216 records were not fully accounted for in the investigation. If they weren't and something does turn out to be there, then it could certainly spell additional trouble but how much? Davis has already been fired. The AD is likely going to be replaced at the end of the week by a guy named Bubba. UNC has/likely will clean house by the time the penalties come down so unless the NCAA wants to tack on LOIC for the heck of it, I think the impact here is minimal unless the records show some really egregious activity.

As for the legal issues here, this is clearly a case between Davis and the media. If UNC had no hand in paying the cell phone bills for Davis then the phone belongs to him alone and the media's fight will be with him should he attempt to have the subpoena quashed. The media will argue that Davis conducted "state business" on his personal cell phone which makes it accessible to the public via the pubic records laws. However the phone is still privately held and under normal legal interpretation not open to such queries from the media. In June of this year, the Colorado Supreme Court held that the governor's personal cell phone was not subject to public record requests despite state business being conducted on it. That could matter in how this case plays out or North Carolina law may have something different to say about situations like this. Then again Davis could simply release them with the personal numbers redacted which won't satisfy the insatiable in all of this.

I do know if Davis does fight it, the NCAA and college coaches everywhere will be paying attention to the result.