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South Florida's Leavitt first to release ballot, Bowden could follow

SI.com's coaches poll record request project netted its first ballot Wednesday, and the ballot of a legend may be on the way.

Wednesday morning, Chris Freet, South Florida's assistant athletic director in charge of communications, sent the preseason ballot of USF coach Jim Leavitt. Wednesday afternoon, Florida State associate AD for communications Rob Wilson sent an e-mail to SI.com granting USA Today, which collects the poll data, permission to release the contents of BobbyBowden's preseason ballot. Whether USA Today will consent to the ballot's release remains a mystery. As of Wednesday night, Monte Lorell, the paper's managing editor for sports, had yet to respond to an e-mail seeking to discuss a release of the ballot. Lorell's assistant said he was traveling Wednesday.

Leavitt's ballot also was posted on USF's athletic department Web site, gousfbulls.com. Above Leavitt's top 25 was a message. "SI.com and the fans want head coach Jim Leavitt's preseason top 25 poll," the message said. "So we thought we would give it to our fans."

That's precisely the correct attitude. None of these schools owe anything to SI.com or any other media outlet. But since they are public institutions, they do owe it to their fans and the citizens of their states to operate in the open. The American Football Coaches Association wants to make all ballots private beginning in the 2010 season, but when the coaches poll is one-third of a BCS formula that dictates who receives millions in bowl dollars, the people have a right to know how a group of public employees saw fit to distribute that money.

"I apologized to the team that I didn't put them higher." Leavitt told The Tampa Tribune. "They were on me about it. They said, coach, 18th, come on. I'm sorry. I apologize. I like that attitude. They want to win, they expect to win."

It should be interesting to see if Bowden's ballot gets released. Wilson wrote that his e-mail "should serve as permission for USA Today to release his votes to you." In an earlier e-mail to Wilson, Bowden's assistant, Sue Hall, wrote the following: "In regard to the request for a copy of coach Bowden's ballot, he fills out the ballot and calls in his vote each week and then discards the ballot. We do not keep a copy. I am sure that USA Today could furnish them with coach Bowden's vote."

After Wednesday's practice, Bowden told FanHouse.com that coaches may stop voting if their ballots are released. "It seems that it's something that ought to be private, to me," Bowden said Wednesday. "What's going to happen is you're going to have a lot of voters drop out of it."

In the same FanHouse.com story, AFCA spokesman Todd Bell said coaches may release their ballots if they wish, but the fact that they are tallied by phone should make them off-limits to records requests.

"This has been tried before and it didn't work the last time because the ballots don't belong to the universities, they belong to us," Bell told FanHouse. The NCAA used a similar argument in a Tallahassee courtroom when several Florida media outlets sued for access to documents pertaining to an investigation into an academic fraud scandal at FSU. The documents were kept on a secure, read-only Web site. The NCAA argued that because FSU didn't use public money to pay its membership dues, the documents are not public records. A judge ruled last week that the documents are public records, and the NCAA has appealed.

Several schools, including Oklahoma and N.C. State, responded to the request with the defense that the ballots are taken by phone and there is no written record to distribute. Oklahoma spokesman Kenny Mossman said SI.com is not the first media outlet to request the ballot of coach Bob Stoops. Mossman estimated that reporters have tried on at least five occasions to use Oklahoma's open records law to get a look at Stoops' ballot.

One coach, Air Force's Troy Calhoun, did not require a records request to release his ballot. He allowed it to be published by the Colorado Springs Gazette earlier this month.

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