Editor’s note: This column from the West Virginia University Freedom of Information office is in response to a recent column by Mickey Furfari that appeared in The Register-Herald sports section.
A recent column by Mickey Furfari, published by some newspapers in West Virginia, made several allegations regarding West Virginia University’s response to a request for information he made under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
The column contained several errors and misstatements of fact, as well as omissions.
Here are the facts:
On April 15, the University received the following FOIA request:
My name is Mickey Furfari, who has covered WVU sports for 70 years. I respectfully request the team average academic numbers for the past 20 years of the WVU wrestling program. I hope you can provide these as soon as possible because I happen to know that you are required to make those public annually by the NCAA.
Many thanks for your cooperation.
P.S. If there is any question whatsoever please show the courtesy of phoning me …”
Two days later, Mr. Furfari asked the Office of the University Registrar for similar information.
On April 23, WVU provided the average grade-point averages for all of WVU’s athletic teams for the past three years. He was also given links to two webpages containing NCAA academic measurements — Academic Progress Rate and Graduation Success Rate.
Also, in his request, and repeated in his column, he makes several erroneous claims:
1) “I happen to know that you are required to make those public annually by the NCAA.” and “Those documents for each of the past 20 years — and even longer — already exist. All were sent to the NCAA and made public.”
They are not required and they do not exist. The NCAA does not require that team average GPAs be kept or reported. The NCAA’s interest is in an athlete’s progress toward graduation, that is, are they keeping up with their classmates, and are they graduating. Those rates — not team grade averages — are what is reported and made public.
However, three years ago, athletic department officials began on their own initiative to compile the numbers and these were provided to Mr. Furfari. Any previous collection of those numbers, if it occurred at all, was not required by the University or any other entity and not maintained in the normal course of business.
2) “What’s more, it is my contention that it is the responsibility, under W.Va. FOIA, of WVU to obtain and fulfill my request for all 20 years of annual numbers — and not on Internet links.”
That is incorrect. The Act only requires that information be provided, and court rulings have specifically stated that it is not required that any documents be created if they do not already exist. (“There is no obligation under the State FOIA to create any particular record, but only to provide access to a public record already created[.]”) If the information exists elsewhere, for example posted on the Internet, it is permissible and customary to provide those links.
The NCAA-required information was provided only in an attempt to respond with the best data available similar to what Mr. Furfari was seeking. This information was provided both by the University’s FOIA and Registrar’s offices.
Mr. Furfari also neglects to note that officials within the athletic department, at the request of the FOIA officer, reached out to him to discuss these regulations and issues. They also have repeatedly offered to go to the NCAA website and print out the information for him, an offer he has repeatedly refused.
3) “But a Freedom of Information Act request for 20 years of public annual academic averages and graduation rates for the WVU wrestling teams — required and made public for submission to the NCAA — has not been fulfilled within the statute’s five-business-days rule.”
The Act does not require that the “information” be provided within five business days, but that a “response” be provided. An appropriate and acceptable response can include “the time and place at which he or she may inspect and copy the materials.”
WVU did provide a response within five days.
4) Some would call that stonewalling.
Contrary to Mr. Furfari’s accusation that the University was “stonewalling,” officials have gone out of their way to find and provide information that met, or addressed, his request.
In his column, Mr. Furfari asks his readers to “consider the facts herein and pass judgment on what’s become an unfortunate issue between this columnist and his alma mater.”
West Virginia University takes every FOIA request seriously and routinely meets requests in a timely and efficient manner. In regard to the recent information sought by Mickey Furfari, the University complied appropriately. However, to ensure that every piece of information had been discovered, the University performed another round of inquiries following his column. During this time, one additional piece of information from 2009, which contained an additional three years of data, was found and has been provided to Mr. Furfari.