ACE today filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Ohio Supreme Court in support of The Ohio State University’s (OSU) quest to protect student privacy in dealing with a request for information from ESPN.
After the 2010 college football season, stories about OSU football players trading memorabilia for tattoos surfaced in the national news. These trades were in violation of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules and ultimately led to the resignation of Ohio State’s football coach, sweeping sanctions against the football team and a flood of information requests under Ohio’s public records law.
ESPN submitted multiple such requests to OSU, and the university released much of the requested information. However, some requests were denied because they would have forced OSU to reveal private student information in violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
ESPN responded by requesting the Ohio Supreme Court require the university to divulge the student information.
In support of OSU’s position, ACE’s brief emphasizes that in response to ESPN’s many requests for information, the university carefully complied both with FERPA and Ohio’s public records law by releasing some information and protecting some information.
Like many state public record laws, Ohio’s provides an exemption when disclosure would violate federal law. The information Ohio State declined to disclose to ESPN falls within this exemption because FERPA requires colleges and universities to protect students’ educational records. FERPA does not make any exception when it comes to the privacy of student-athletes; on the contrary, FERPA’s protections are to be broadly construed because that is what Congress intended when it enacted the law.
“At an even more basic level, it is critically important that the Ohio Supreme Court recognize the impractical nature of ESPN’s argument that FERPA does not in fact require colleges and universities to protect education records,” said ACE General Counsel Ada Meloy. “In accepting federal funds—as nearly all institutions of higher education do—Ohio State is bound by the terms attached to those funds, including FERPA’s mandatory protection of private student records. The university’s measured response to ESPN’s requests honored both the laws of the state of Ohio and FERPA.”