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Ohio Supreme Court: Ohio State properly withheld information from ESPN

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The Ohio Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday that Ohio State properly withheld identifying information from public records related to the Buckeyes football “Tattoo-gate scandal that were requested by ESPN.

ESPN filed a lawsuit against OSU regarding public records that pertained to the scandal in which players sold Buckeyes football memorabilia in exchange for improper benefits. ESPN attorney John Greiner said OSU had violated state public record laws, but the court ruled that OSU did not violate the laws or misuse FERPA, or the Family and Educational Rights and Privacy Act. 

In the time since ESPN filed suit in July 2011, OSU released specific documents listed in the lawsuit to ESPN and other outlets, but completely withheld others. As part of the court’s ruling, ESPN will now have access to documents that were completely withheld by OSU. The court said:

“Therefore, Ohio State properly withheld identifying information concerning the student-athletes by redacting it from the records that the university released. Nevertheless, a review of the sealed records that were responsive to ESPN’s request but were withheld based on FERPA indicates that Ohio State should provide access to these records after redacting the personally identifiable information.

“Therefore, although the majority of the requested records were properly redacted before being provided to ESPN, ESPN is entitled to access to redacted copies of these few records that were completely withheld from it based on FERPA. Ohio State properly withheld the remaining requested records based on attorney-client privilege.”

The requested records included any and all emails or documents containing the keyword phrase “Ted Sarniak,” a businessman from Jeanette, Pa., hometown of former OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Sarniak was a mentor to Pryor.

ESPN had also sued for complete reimbursement of legal fees in the matter at hand, and that was denied in the court’s unanimous ruling.

In a Tuesday afternoon OSU statement said that “Ohio State appreciates the clarity given today by the Ohio Supreme Court affirming the university’s interpretation of federal student privacy laws.”

OSU’s statement went on to say: 

“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. At the same time, the university also takes seriously its obligation to provide public information in accordance with Ohio law.

“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.”

ESPN spokesman Michael Humes did not immediately respond to The Lantern‘s request for comment.  

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