ESPN said files withheld illegally, sues Ohio State

By Thomas Bradley

The Lantern, Ohio State U. via UWIRE

ESPN said files withheld illegally, sues Ohio State

In a lawsuit filed with the Supreme Court of Ohio on Monday, the ESPN Inc., has sued Ohio State for withholding public record documents.

In the suit, ESPN says OSU wrongfully cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as a reason for withholding various documents.

ESPN stated in the complaint that producers at ESPN had made public records requests for all emails sent or received by President E. Gordon Gee, athletic director Gene Smith, compliance officer Doug Archie and former head coach Jim Tressel, that included the keyword “Sarniak.”

Ted Sarniak is a businessman in Jeanette, Pa., closely associated with former OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor. OSU described the two’s relationship in an email to the Columbus Dispatch.

“Mr. Sarniak is someone who Terrelle has reached out to for advice and guidance throughout his high-school and collegiate career,” Archie said in an email.

OSU’s media relations department cited FERPA as a reason for not supplying the record to ESPN. However, ESPN argues that FERPA does not apply in this case. They said that FERPA protects maintained student files as they relate to finances, but it does not protect against the requested files.

OSU spokesperson Jim Lynch told the The Lantern in an email that they normally do not comment on pending litigation, but due to the circumstances, made a statement regarding the case.

“The university believes that it has adhered to all applicable state and federal laws,” Lynch said in the email. “The university has been inundated with public records requests stemming from its ongoing NCAA investigation and the university. These include voluminous requests from ESPN, which in turn has received a voluminous amount of information.

“We are disappointed that ESPN decided to file this suit on Monday,” Lynch continued. “Notwithstanding this, we will continue to work cooperatively with ESPN and all media in responding to their numerous requests on these matters.”

ESPN also said OSU denied other requests about the events leading up to former head coach Jim Tressel’s resignation. ESPN said some of the requests were sent back because they were too broad. According to the Ohio Revised Code, all denied public records requests citing that the request is too broad have to have legal reasons for the denial and be accompanied with a suggestion to make the appropriate request.

“While the university often receives media requests that are overly broad, given Ohio’s public record laws, we generally try to work with reporters to help them find the information they are seeking, working within the boundaries of the applicable laws,” Lynch said in the email.

A representative for ESPN declined to comment on the matter, saying ESPN does not comment on pending litigation.

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