An Omaha law firm filed a suit Wednesday in Douglas County District Court on behalf of former UNO football players and recruits seeking a release of public records relating to the termination of the football and wrestling programs in March 2011.
Attorney Mike Degan said that its public records request would help answer questions that remain and would then allow the firm to evaluate whether to take further legal action.
Degan's firm represents 13 former University of Nebraska at Omaha athletes, the majority of whom were members of the football recruiting class that signed national letters of intent with the program on Feb. 2, 2011.
"If, as we believe the information shows, the decision (to drop football) was made well in advance of national signing day, then I think we're going to examine the options that are available to those student-athletes very closely," Degan said, "because it would strike us as intentional misrepresentation that was relied upon by these athletes to their detriment."
UNO on March 13 of that year announced its decision to move from Division II to Division I while at the same time dropping its football and wrestling programs. Membership in Division I was made possible because UNO had an invitation to join the Summit League.
UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts has given Feb. 18 — more than two weeks after letter-of-intent signing day — as the critical date on UNO's move to Division I. That's when the Summit League's commissioner told him the conference wanted to sponsor UNO's jump.
The World-Herald a year ago reported on a document prepared for a Jan. 25 meeting — more than a week before signing day — in which Alberts indicated that UNO had "an informal outstanding invitation" to join the Summit League. And if the bid were to become reality, UNO would "end football and wrestling."
Alberts has said there is no discrepancy between that document and the timeline he had earlier offered. By that date, the Summit League had indicated only that UNO was a strong contender for a league spot, he said. While he referred to it in the document as an "informal'' invitation, he says it amounted to less than that. He had no official verbal guarantee until Feb. 18. The official invitation did not come until after a site visit in March.
The Summit League's commissioner has also given Feb. 18 as the critical date, two weeks after signing day.
Degan's firm began initiating information requests from UNO last June. Degan said UNO's request for "substantial" financial deposits ($9,000) to initiate the search, and UNO's intent to limit the search terms available in trolling through deleted emails, have been points of contention that have contributed to the lawsuit.
"It's an unfortunate step that we were forced to take because the university is refusing to turn over the information that we're entitled to under state law," Degan said. "Frankly, we don't understand why they simply won't disclose this information. All we're looking for at this stage are answers."
Alberts and UNO Chancellor John Christensen, in a joint statement through UNO public relations, said that they believe that UNO "has appropriately responded" to the request for public records.
The university also attached two documents from last August, one of which is a state attorneys general office opinion regarding UNO's deposit request, that it believes support its stance.
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