Ohio State wins in ESPN lawsuit

Updated: June 19, 2012, 6:23 PM ET
By Austin Ward | ESPN.com

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Ohio State University in an open records lawsuit filed by ESPN.

ESPN filed suit in July after Ohio State denied requests for additional documents about the 2011 investigation involving former football coach Jim Tressel, Terrelle Pryor and the former Buckeye quarterback's mentor, Ted Sarniak. That investigation ultimately led to the resignation of Tressel and NCAA sanctions.

The university cited federal privacy laws regarding student information in its response to ESPN. While the court ruled Ohio State initially violated open record laws by deeming the requests too broad or failing to release information due to the ongoing investigation, on Tuesday it issued a unanimous ruling that the school had properly used the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment.

"Ohio State appreciates the clarity given today by the Ohio Supreme Court affirming the university's interpretation of federal student privacy laws," a university statement said. "Our student athletes are treated the same way as all of our 64,000 students, and we take seriously our obligation to protect the confidentiality of all of our students' education records."

ESPN's argument centered on the premise that it wasn't seeking educational records from Ohio State, instead focusing on documents of contact between school officials and Sarniak. But the court sided with the public university and also rejected an argument from ESPN that the school improperly protected information on the basis of attorney-client privilege.

Ohio State receives more than $919 million, approximately 23 percent of its operating dollars, from federal funding, which the court cited in the ruling.

"Therefore, Ohio State, having agreed to the conditions and accepted the federal funds, was prohibited by FERPA from systematically releasing education records without parental consent," the court said.

Ohio State's refusal to release documents regarding the case while it was ongoing was deemed a violation by the court, but it did not impose an order on the school or award any damages because ESPN did not seek any.

"The university also takes seriously its obligation to provide public information in accordance with Ohio law," the university statement said. "The university provided ESPN with thousands of pages of records during the course of our NCAA investigation, and as now affirmed by a unanimous court, it acted responsibly to the many varied and broad public records requests it received."

Austin Ward | email

Ohio State/Big Ten reporter