Open Letter to Tiger Fans from University Counsel Sheri Lipman
June 2, 2009
MEMPHIS, TENN. -
As the University Counsel for the University of Memphis, I can speak on behalf of the University to say to our fans that we understand your desire to know all there is to know about the program, and appreciate, and frankly are awed by, your dedication and loyalty. Given that knowledge, why would we not release information about the NCAA matter facing the University in advance of an open records act request? If we know how much fans, and specifically fans who contribute their hard-earned money to support us, want to know about this kind of information, why wouldn't we release it for all fans to know about and discuss? And, finally, as some experts have opined, why wouldn't we release it, to get ahead of the game and shape the message?
In most situations, I agree with the theory that we should release the information to get ahead of the message and inform our supporters. Bad news does not get any better, as the saying goes, so the idea of getting the information in the public's hands, along with the University's position on the issues raised, is important so that the public can assess how the institution is conducting the public's business.
However, the answers to these questions in this instance depend on a knowledge of the NCAA infractions process. Once a notice of allegation is issued to an institution, many interviews have already occurred, some of which the institution knows about and participated in, but others which the institution does not know about, or about which the institution has not been told all of the details. Although we knew the gist of what was to be contained in the notice of allegations, we had not seen the actual document and the specifics of what was alleged. Once we received the notice, we had approximately 90 days to respond, based on a review of all the evidence. The response must include a written answer to each allegation and to numerous related questions, and a mass assembly of documents, some of which are actually compilations based on reviews of other documents. It is a fairly massive effort. Our response in this matter is 63 pages, with another 497 pages of exhibits.
In essence, those 90 days are spent understanding fully what the NCAA alleges occurred, reviewing the evidence (some familiar and other parts unfamiliar) to assess the institution's position on the allegations, and drafting the response in a manner that puts the University's best foot forward. If we had released the notice in January of 2009, as suggested by some, we could not have "gotten out in front of the issue" by answering everyone's questions because we were still engaged in our review, our follow-up on certain aspects of the allegations, and our drafting of a response. Our fans absolutely deserve a dedicated and concerted effort to do our best to protect the University, and trying to explain this matter in the media before we have completed our own analysis would have done a disservice to those fans.
Even today, the University is crippled in its ability to respond to questions about these issues. We appear before the Committee on Infractions on Saturday, June 6. That Committee is charged with the responsibility to adjudicate this matter, and to pre-judge how they will view things is inappropriate and presumptuous. The Committee has the right and the power to act as they see fit, without the University "trying the case" in the court of public opinion.
We understand that others may not agree with the decisions the University has made. But, as the University's Counsel, I can categorically say that the decision to not release this information in January has made it possible for the University to put its best foot forward in this process. I am not confident that we would have been able to do so had we been attempting to respond to constant questioning while trying to prepare our response.
To all Tiger fans, please know that we will represent you well on June 6. Go Tigers!