A host of national university groups and even the federal government turned in legal briefs yesterday that generally support Ohio State University (OSU) and oppose ESPN in the network’s fight for records stemming from possible wrongdoing inside the athletic department.
The U.S. Justice Department did not take a position on whether the records are protected by a federal student-privacy law known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
But it took issue with ESPN’s argument to the Ohio Supreme Court that FERPA does not bar the release of covered records and instead merely sets conditions on schools that receive federal funds.
“The Ohio State University receives federal education funds. It is therefore prohibited by federal law from taking actions that violate the conditions on receipt of those funds, including the conditions established by FERPA,” federal lawyers wrote.
ESPN wants to see emails between former coach Jim Tressel, university President E. Gordon Gee, athletic director Gene Smith and compliance director Doug Archie regarding a mentor to former quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
It also asked for documents related to NCCA investigations and lists of people banned from receiving free game tickets from players.
The school has since provided some documents but not others.
Ohio State, which filed its response to the ESPN suit yesterday, argued that it cannot release some records because they are “education records” shielded by federal law or are protected by attorney-client privilege.
ESPN has said FERPA does not apply because the records could shed light on the “nonacademic improprieties” of the football coach.
University organizations came out in full support of Ohio State.
“The court in this case should ‘sing Ohio’s praise’ in recognition of the exemplary way in which the university has heeded its obligations under both FERPA and the Ohio Public Records Law,” they wrote, quoting the opening line of the OSU alma mater.