Oct 10, 2009 at 02:38 PM
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UA A.D.: Sponsorship "Independent" of Health Care Objectives

On Wednesday, we wrote about a story from Arkansas Business that looked into whether the University of Arkansas Athletics department had tied its choice of medical providers to sponsorship contracts, and subsequently according to Arkansas Business, altered slides of the partnership presentation, in response to a FOIA request.

Yesterday afternoon, the University of Arkansas issued a statement in response from Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Jeff Long:

Earlier this year, the University of Arkansas department of athletics announced a new partnership with medical care providers ensuring that more than 460 Razorback student-athletes will receive the highest quality medical care possible.

For the first time, Razorback athletics, in a combined department, is providing state-of-the-art health care to meet the needs of all men’s and women’s student-athletes at an unparalleled level.

Recently, published reports have questioned both the university’s rationale for choosing medical providers, as well as its transparency in sharing details on the selection process. One such editorial was published without providing the university an opportunity to address any allegations and was based solely on a third-party report. I am disappointed that the athletic department was not afforded a chance to share its perspective or to respond to some serious assertions.

In light of these circumstances, I wanted to share this letter with you to set the record straight.

First and foremost, the health and safety of our student-athletes has been and remains our number one priority. As such, it was essential to secure the necessary health care providers who possessed the most current and up-to-date expertise and training in the field of sports medicine.

In working to explore the health care needs of our student-athletes and to develop a partnership that would be responsive to all of our student-athletes, the athletic department conducted a series of meetings with potential providers using a power point presentation detailing the department’s health care priorities and objectives with the potential providers. The attached e-mail to Chancellor G. David Gearhart dated April 23, 2009, clearly outlines the process we used to reach our conclusion.

In preparation for these meetings, a power point presentation was developed. The final slide of the presentation used in the meetings addressed a variety of matters, including the issue of an official partnership. We raised the issue of becoming an official sponsor because the athletic department had sold its media and sponsorship rights to another party last year, and any partnership would not be able to operate as it had in the past when the university controlled those rights.

As reflected in my April 23rd email to Chancellor Gearhart, we hoped that any health care providers would also want to consider sponsorships. That issue, however, was independent of our efforts to achieve the department’s health care objectives. Our priority and focus concerned quality, access, and continuity of care at the highest level for all of our student-athletes. We stressed this fact to all of the potential health care providers.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, I released a copy of the power point presentation that is at the heart of the assertions about the athletic department’s compliance with Freedom of Information Act. The university complied with the request.

Contrary to published assertions that the final slide was “omitted” from my FOIA response, I want to be unequivocal in stating that I did not omit or intentionally withhold any record. In this instance, I did not have a copy of the final presentation in my records. I released an earlier version of the document that was the only copy contained in my records. The suggestion that I would have purposefully withheld such a record from a presentation prepared by a member of my staff many months ago is absurd because the document was distributed and given to potential health care providers.

I can also say unequivocally that the University of Arkansas, as a public trust, takes its responsibilities and accountability to the citizens of Arkansas very seriously. Razorback athletics is no exception.

The athletic department fully recognizes and abides by its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act. The athletic department has a long history of working with reporters as well as members of the public to respond to a large volume of requests. The athletic department remains committed to fulfilling its legal obligations.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we may fail to provide a record simply from an oversight or a mistake. If we discover any such error, we supplement our previous responses in an effort to be forthcoming. In the future, we hope to avoid any confusion arising from a response to a particular FOIA request through a constructive dialogue and examination of any discrepancies that may be perceived to exist.

I take the allegations regarding this matter with the utmost seriousness. And I want to let Razorback fans know that the athletic department remains committed to serving our student-athletes and the citizens of the State of Arkansas with honesty and integrity.