U-Md. doesn’t have copy of Big Ten contract

The University of Maryland did not retain a copy of the contract that its president signed with the Big Ten Conference in November, which reportedly contains the terms of the public institution entering into a long-term business deal with the private athletic conference.

“Conferences often restrict distribution of documents and contracts that contain proprietary information such as television revenues,” said Brian Ullmann, U-Md. assistant vice president for marketing and communications. “Thus, in line with Big 10 policy, we do not maintain a copy of our conference agreement.”

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Brad Traviolia, a deputy commissioner at the Big Ten, said through a spokesperson that the conference retains all agreements rather than distribute them to the member schools.

Eleven of the 12 schools currently in the Big Ten, along with the two that recently joined, are public institutions that are typically required by law to make most of their records available to the public. (One exception is Penn State University, which is exempt from the state’s open records law. This became a matter of controversy following the arrest and then conviction of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, along with accusations that the school lacked transparency.)

Although athletic conference changes are nearly always shrouded in intense secrecy, critics say that U-Md. and University System of Maryland officials did not involve enough stakeholders over a long enough period of time before deciding to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference, of which U-Md. was a founding member. U-Md. President Wallace Loh has said that he was limited by a non-disclosure agreement.

Those critics included Regent C. Thomas McMillen, a former Maryland congressman and U-Md. basketball star, who wrote in an opinion piece in late November: “[A] change of this magnitude should not be made over a weekend, with minimal documentation, little transparency and no input from anyone who might be opposed to it. . . Public universities receiving taxpayer money are supposed to operate under shared governance, but what happened at Maryland was governance by secrecy and exclusion.”

The Board of Regents, which oversees most of Maryland’s public universities, met in private twice in November to discuss the move. Early this year, the state Open Meetings Compliance Board concluded that the regents violated the law “in multiple respects.”

“We also find, even on the basis of the limited information that the Board has provided to us about those meetings,” the compliance board wrote, “that at least some of the Board’s discussion should almost certainly have been conducted in open session.”

The governing board issued a statement of regret in December and has since revised its procedures.

In late November, The Washington Post filed a Public Information Act request for “any contract(s) that the University of Maryland has entered into with the Big Ten Conference.” Two months later, The Post received a response from U-Md. Chief Counsel Jack T. Roach that said the university “has no records responsive” to the request.

The Post made a second request in early February, this time describing the document in detail. President Loh has described the paperwork in this way: “The lawyers were at it for several hours, and then they gave me this document, and I said, ‘Well, you tell me whether it summarizes accurately everything that we discussed.’ And my lawyer said, ‘Yes, it does.’ . . . I signed the document, understanding that it was only binding if the regents agreed the next day.”

Earlier this month, The Post received a response from Roach that stated: “The University has no such contract document(s) in its possession or control . . . The fact remains the same.”

This practice is typical, Ullmann said, as the university also does not have a copy of the ACC’s current television contract.

The Post also requested the document that U-Md. officials gave members of the Board of Regents at a Nov. 19 meeting. McMillen described this document as a “single piece of paper outlining the proposal, and it was taken away when Monday’s meeting ended.”

Roach responded this month that “to the best of our knowledge and belief, no such document was retained after November 19, 2012. We have no such document in our custody or control.”

 
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