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Media Demand Records in UNC Football Probe

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (CN) - The Charlotte Observer claims the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is withholding documents related to an NCAA investigation of the school's football program. The newspaper and other news groups, including The Associated Press, demand documents about 11 student football players whom the NCAA is believed to be investigating to see if they received money and other improper benefits from sports agents.

Defendants in Orange County Court include Athletic Director Richard Baddour, head football coach Paul "Butch" Davis Jr., Public Safety Director Jeff McCracken and Chancellor Holden Thorp.

In July, the news organizations began requesting documents relevant to the investigation, including the names of people who provided benefits to UNC football players, the phone records of athletic director Baddour and coach Davis, parking tickets given to players, the names and employment dates for athletic tutors and the recipients of athletic scholarships.

The university cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act in denying the public records requests, although it could have, in certain cases, redacted forms with confidential information removed.

The media organizations claim the university is violating North Carolina's open records law, which states that records, documents and other information generated by state agencies and institutions should be made public, with limited exceptions.

University officials claim that many of the records are private; they cite federal laws to protect student grades and other private facts from public scrutiny.

"The university is entrusted with lots of confidential information about our students," said Leslie Strohm, vice chancellor and general counsel for the university, in a statement. "They and their families expect us to hold that information in confidence because it's required by federal law and because it's the right thing to do. A football player has the same basic privacy rights as any student on campus."

NCAA investigators have been looking at the university football program since early summer. Initially the probe focused on whether players had received improper benefits from agents, but it has since been expanded to include possible academic violations involving a tutor.

Last week, the university severed its ties to the tutor, Jennifer Wiley, a 2009 graduate of the school, sending her a letter that stated that she provided "impermissible financial assistance [to players] in excess of $2,000 in connection with travel and transportation issue," according to a report published in the Herald-Sun newspaper. The same report said the letter also cites "impermissible academic assistance" provided to players in 2009 and 2010.

The media organizations seek an immediate hearing on the merits of their case, an order that the defendants produce the requested documents so that the court can perform an in camera review, and an additional order that the defendants comply with the state's open records law.

The plaintiffs are represented by Hugh Stevens and Michael Tadych with Stevens, Martin Vaughn & Tadych of Raleigh, N.C.

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