COLUMBUS: The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with Ohio State University in an open records lawsuit brought by ESPN over documents it sought from the university related to the 2011 football team scandal and NCAA investigation.
The network had sued the university alleging it violated state public records law by denying requests for items regarding the forced resignation of football coach Jim Tressel and star quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
Among records sought were correspondences referring to Ted Sarniak, reportedly a mentor of Pryor in his hometown of Jeannette, Pa.
Ohio State had already released hundreds of pages of documents to ESPN and other media outlets, including The Associated Press, by the time ESPN filed its lawsuit in July and argued that the university improperly cited a federal student-records privacy law in denying some records and improperly removing names from others.
But the court said unanimously Tuesday that for the most part the university properly shielded records covered by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
The university annually receives about 23 percent of its total operating dollars, more than $919 million, from federal funds, the court noted.
"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.
The court also rejected ESPN's argument that the university improperly shielded some records on the basis of attorney-client privilege.
The court did rule that Ohio State initially violated state open records law when it denied some of ESPN's requests as either too broad or because the university would not release any records about the ongoing NCAA investigation.
Although the court said Ohio State properly removed names from documents it did release, the court ordered it to release the few records that were withheld entirely under the federal privacy law as long as students' names were removed.
Those records include an email chain between Tressel, the Ohio State athletics department official in charge of compliance, attorneys, and other officials scheduling a meeting.
Another document refers to one person's request to obtain a disability-insurance policy on behalf of a student-athlete.
The university said it appreciated the court's recognition of the way Ohio State interprets federal privacy laws. It also said it takes open records laws seriously.
"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 in responding to the many varied and broad public record requests it received," the university said in a statement.
Messages left for ESPN's attorney Tuesday were not immediately returned.