Congress Takes a Pass – So Far – on College Sports Scandals

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Several groups have been tapping on the door of Congress lately with a request for oversight into the often opaque, big-money world of college sports. But the door seems shut tight.

There’s been no shortage of front-page scandals involving blue chip collegiate athletic programs, from the Penn State child sex abuse tragedy to the University of Miami booster-gate episode, where an avid fan lavished players with cash, women and other extra benefits.

But it’s a 16-year academic fraud case at the University of North Carolina that has crystallized concerns that a federal academic records privacy law has been used by schools as a tool to keep certain records from the public that critics believe should be kept open.

“There is not a culture of transparency,” said James Sears Bryant, an attorney who was involved in a campus privacy issue related to sexual assault complaints at Oklahoma State University.

Sometimes the law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, known as FERPA, has been used to keep even police and state officials in the dark.

At Oklahoma State, Bryant said school officials mistakenly told reporters that the law prevented them from reporting sexual assault complaints to the police.

FERPA was intended to protect student privacy, primarily grades. But educational institutions have used it to keep other kinds of records secret – including disciplinary actions after sexual assault reports, parking tickets that would show what kind of cars student-athletes are driving, and other non-educational information.

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