(CN) - ESPN says the University of Texas is playing games with sports station's FOIA request about plans to move the Longhorns out of the Big 12 Conference. Possible realignment of the Big 12, PAC 10 and Big 10 is big news, and the public is entitled to it, ESPN says, despite the UT's claim that the documents are protected from disclosure by attorney-client privilege.
ESPN and its reporter Paula Lavigne sued the University of Texas System, seeking declaratory judgment in Travis County Court, Austin.
Lavigne submitted a FOIA request on June 22, seeking any documents generated since May 1, including emails, fax, or telephone notes from UT officials, regarding membership realignment of the Big 12, Big 10 and PAC 10 conferences.
The UT refused, citing attorney-client privilege, and saying the attorney general, agreed.
"However, the arguments that the UT system asserted simply cannot apply to the vast bulk of information sought by ESPN, if any," the complaint states. "For example, the UT system claims that certain responsive information related to UT Austin President William Powers is not public information because it was not 'collected, assembled or maintained in connection of transaction of official business of' UT Austin, but rather in President Powers' capacity as Chair of the Big 12 Board of Directors. However, the UT system admits that President Powers holds his position as Chair of the Big 12 Board of Directors only by virtue of his Presidency of UT Austin and because UT Austin is a member of the Big 12 conference. Further, the fact that the Big 12 itself is not a governmental body is irrelevant. ESPN has requested the information from UT Austin, not the Big 12. UT Austin's membership in the Big 12 and/or the possibility of realignment has a substantial impact on UT Austin and relates to UT Austin's business, and therefore falls within the definition of public information. ... Additionally, the UT system's claim that much of the information and communication related to membership realignment of the Big 12 and other conferences is protected by the attorney-client privilege is internally inconsistent. It is inherent in the UT system's argument in its brief that much if not all of the alleged attorney-client privileged information was shared with the Big 12, thereby defeating the privilege."
Major conference athletic realignment dominated the headlines this summer, with Texas as a major player. Various reports had Texas preparing to move to the Big 10 or the PAC 10, which many analysts speculated could spell the end of the Big 12. Ultimately, Texas stayed put, with only Nebraska and Colorado moving out of the Big 12. Nebraska will begin playing in the Big 10 and Colorado will begin playing in the PAC 10 next year.
ESPN wants to see the documents. It is represented by Catherine Robb of Austin and Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold of Houston.