Ohio State University is withholding emails between former coach Jim Tressel and a mentor to ex-quarterback Terrelle Pryor by wrongfully hiding behind a federal student-privacy law, ESPN said yesterday in a lawsuit filed with the Ohio Supreme Court.
The media company asked the court to order the release of various documents that it said should be made public by OSU.
OSU officials maintain that the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, designed to protect education records, is the basis for shielding some details of wrongdoing inside its athletic department. But ESPN said FERPA should not be used to keep secret the non-academic improprieties of a football coach.
"FERPA has no application here," ESPN lawyer John Greiner said in his filing, "and this court should not permit it to be used in a manner that is equal parts cynical and hypocritical."
The Dispatch has pending records requests for the emails between Tressel and businessman Ted Sarniak - Pryor's hometown mentor in Jeannette, Pa. - and other documents. The Dispatch also has met with state Attorney General Mike DeWine in an attempt to gain release of the records.
ESPN specifically wants to see:
• All emails, letters and memos to and from Tressel, university president E. Gordon Gee, athletic director Gene Smith and compliance director Doug Archie regarding Sarniak since March 2007.
• All documents related to NCAA investigations of Tressel prepared for or forwarded to the NCAA since January 2010.
• All emails or documents listing people banned from receiving free game tickets from players.
• Any report, email or correspondence since January 2005 between the NCAA and Archie or any other OSU athletic department official related to the football program's violations of NCAA rules.
Ohio State spokesman Jim Lynch said the school has adhered to applicable state and federal laws. The final three requests were rejected as "overly broad" or for other reasons.
The university has been "inundated" with public-records requests stemming from the NCAA investigation, including "voluminous" requests from ESPN, he said.
He said ESPN has received a voluminous amount of information in return, and the university generally works with reporters to help them find information they are seeking.
"Especially considering the fact that we made publicly available on Friday our NCAA response and a number of exhibits, we are disappointed that ESPN decided to file this suit on Monday. Notwithstanding this, we will continue to work cooperatively with ESPN and all media in responding to their numerous requests on these matters."
OSU has 21 days to respond to the suit once it is served with papers. The court could grant ESPN's request, deny it or set a schedule for legal briefs.
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