UM coaches' contracts are public, court rules

Williams, Friedgen deals are funded by taxpayers

statewide impact foreseen

April 16, 2004|By Alec MacGillis and Ed Waldman | Alec MacGillis and Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

The state's highest court ordered the University of Maryland yesterday to release its pay packages for two high-profile coaches - a ruling that is likely to lay bare the contract of any public employee.

UM officials, who for two years fought requests for the coaches' deals, said yesterday that they need to review the Court of Appeals decision in a suit brought by The Sun before revealing the contracts of basketball coach Gary Williams and football coach Ralph Friedgen.

Though the ruling dealt with the contracts of the coaches, legal experts said last night that it appeared to apply to all state and local officials, some of whom have until now had to disclose only their salaries.

FOR THE RECORD - The headline on a front-page article in yesterday's editions of The Sun incorrectly stated that taxpayer money funded the contracts of University of Maryland coaches Ralph Friedgen and Gary Williams. Although they are employees of a public institution, their contracts are paid only by money raised by the athletic department or through third-party agreements.
The Sun regrets the error.

Experts said the ruling could make available the contracts of every taxpayer-funded employee in Maryland, revealing all the benefits and perks often bestowed on such officials as college presidents.

"It looks pretty strong to me," Eric B. Easton, a media law professor at the University of Baltimore, said of the decision. "I don't see anything in [this ruling] that necessarily limits it to these two coaches or athletic coaches generally."

The ruling adds momentum to the nationwide debate, building for years, over the escalating compensation of top college sports coaches - and the role of big money in college athletics generally. While some state universities have had to make public their contracts with coaches, the complex structure of many lucrative deals remains hidden.

Williams and Friedgen reportedly earn more than $1 million annually. But it is unclear how their packages break down among state salaries, incentives, endorsements or bonuses.

In turning down The Sun's requests for the contracts in 2002, the university said it needed to make public only the coaches' base salaries because their contracts were private personnel documents. A similar argument has long shielded the contracts of other top state employees.

But in yesterday's unanimous decision, the court ruled that the coaches' actual contracts must be made public, asserting that the contracts were the underpinning of their state pay.

The contracts are "the transaction of state business," the court stated, in a ruling written by Chief Judge Robert M. Bell. "It is clear the employment contracts ... are exactly the types of records to which the Legislature intended the public to have access."

Third-party deals

In a separate part of the ruling, in which one judge dissented, the judges said lower courts should decide whether the university also has to make public the coaches' contracts with third parties such as sports apparel companies. If the lower court finds that those contracts are "closely connected" with the coaches' roles with the teams, the ruling stated, those contracts should be released.

University spokesman George Cathcart said the college has 30 days before the court's opinion "becomes mandate" but that it plans to hand over the contracts before then.

"We will comply, certainly," he said. "Our lawyers need a couple of days to digest it."

National critics of generous contracts for college coaches cheered yesterday's ruling, saying that greater public awareness of the deals might act as a check against rising pay.

"There's going to be people who are amazed by the amount of money these coaches are getting in these deals," said Murray Sperber, an Indiana University professor and author of Beer and Circus, a 2000 critique of big-time college sports.

`The way it should be'

The ruling was also welcomed by national First Amendment advocates, who said they were surprised that public employment contracts had been off-limits in Maryland.

"This is the way it should be," said Rebecca Daugherty, a director at the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, in Virginia. "It lets the boss - i.e., the public - know what kind of contracts it entered into. It makes a lot of sense."

Williams, who just completed his 15th season as coach, won Maryland's first national basketball championship in the 2001-2002 season. He has a 315-165 record and has led the Terps into the NCAA tournament for 11 straight years.

Williams agreed to a seven-year contract in November 2002 that reportedly brings him an average of nearly $1.3 million per year in guaranteed compensation. Incentives could boost the multiyear deal by as much as $500,000.

That contract replaced a seven-year extension he got in 2001 after leading Maryland to its first Final Four berth.

Under his old deal, Williams received a base salary of $202,991 in 2002. Williams, 59, is a 1968 graduate of Maryland. His predecessor, Bob Wade, was 36-50 in three seasons.

Friedgen, a 1970 Maryland graduate, has seven years remaining on a 10-year, $12 million contract he signed in 2001.

This year Friedgen has a base salary of $200,000 and a car allowance of $12,000. His pay also includes $410,000 for apparel endorsements - which the university acknowledged this year - and related services and $80,000 in competitive bonuses.

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