May’s second midweek madness gets existential. The big story of the day was the “discussion” about the future of our favorite sport- more on that after the jump.
But one thing is for sure – Urban Meyer will bring hardware back to Columbus with him before all is said and done. Gold pants, B1G titles and crystal footballs. For everyone who has piled on over the last twelve months – from those in Ann Arbor, Madison, and SEC country to those posted up at the headquarters of ESPN, Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News – there’s simply no way around it. Urban Meyer wins, and he wins big.
The benefactor? THE Ohio State University.
UPDATE- If you haven’t already, listen to former Buckeye LeCharles Bentley talk about this issue on ESPN radio. I think he’s been reading our site…
With the news on Monday that the Worldwide Leader has decided to sue The Ohio State University, it’s probably a good time to review the relationship that Disney’s Sports Network has both with the school in Columbus and the entirety of the nation’s first collegiate conference.
For our Cornhusker readers- consider this a warning.
First, let’s review the latest- ESPN has filed suit against Ohio State in the Ohio Supreme Court, holding that the University (and particularly the Athletic Department) are in violation of the state’s open record laws.
The details, as articulated by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, are that the University rejected several sets of Freedom Of Information requests regarding emails and other documents surrounding the recent investigation into both Tressel’s failures and into other allegations raised both by ESPN and Sports Illustrated. This suit follows what has been described as a lengthy attempt to dig information in Columbus by the network.
To be fair, this is quite an interesting case. The University’s rationale for not releasing the requested documents are twofold- First, emails related to Ted Sarniak were rejected based on the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, meaning that the University believes that these qualify as “educational records” because of their easily identified connection to a student or students (in this case Terrelle Pryor and/or Jordan Hall).
Educational records, which might include everything from grades to student ID numbers to student housing assignments or disciplinary records, are legally protected until the death of the student; most institutions maintain these records for seven years following the student’s dissociation with the institution. “Legally protected” means that these cannot be shared with outside parties unless subpoenaed or unless the university has documented approval from the student. In addition, the definition of these “documents” within the institution can be fluid as well, and may not include items which might be defined as “personal notes.”
ESPN’s argument is that
The FERPA angle interests me the most, since I’m invested in higher education as a profession. It’s also intriguing given the Dispatch’s article earlier regarding their frustration with the University’s use of FERPA as a shield. It should also be noted that the Dispatch is pursuing some of the same documentation that ESPN’s suit includes.
The University’s second refusal to release information regarding ticket lists, secondary violations and other items are due to their perception of the “broad” nature of the requests. The director of media relations defends this decision, saying-
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.
In the email attached to the suit, Jim Lynch does seem to be willing to work with ESPN’s request, and goes through a very thorough reflection on each point; most of which are granted or in progress. One area, though, that the University will not provide information refers to documents directly related to the NCAA’s investigation, stating “We will not release anything on the pending investigation”. This sounds familiar, since it’s the same response given by ESPN to 97.1 The Fan as they were looking for a follow up interview.
From my (no legal training) experience, this one seems to be more of a valid issue for ESPN, and one that may be easily rectified, at least in terms of a compromise. I doubt the University would change their stance on investigation related correspondence, but the other items could be easily obtained, in my opinion.
It’s quite possible the the four letter network has a legitimate case here- that Ohio ‘s laws were violated, and that the documents in question are an important part of the ongoing story regarding our favorite squadron. It’s also possible that this is not unusual for ESPN; they sued Texas for the same reason and access after UT agreed to partner with them to create the Longhorn Network. With friends like that, it seems…
But there is a bit of a disconnect here- Where was this same strategy when USC was under the gun for several years? Why at that time did the good folks at Bristol choose to let Yahoo! do all the heavy lifting rather than pursuing some investigation of their own, particularly when they themselves often noticed the numbers of folks “hanging around” the Trojan program? Granted, Southern Cal has a different set of expectations as a private institution, but we certainly didn’t hear about any vehicle or housing issues, as our friend Tom Orr reminded us today.
Could there be another motive behind these decisions? Well… funny that you mention that.