ESPN Suing Ohio State Over Public Records Request

ESPN is suing my alma mater over the university’s refusal to turn over emails during their recent investigation of the Ohio State football program. If you recall, Jim Tressel was fired/retired/removed by the university after coming to the realization that their 5 game self imposed suspension (extended from a laughable 2 game suspension) would not be enough punishment for the NCAA.

Under relentless media pressure, Tressel was shown the door for not forwarding emails that told of NCAA infractions involving illegal benefits. Not only did he not forward those emails through the proper channels, he actually reached out to Pryor’s mentor, Ted Sarniak, a businessman from Pryor’s hometown.

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Sarniak’s mentorship or involvement with Pryor has always been something of a mystery with many believing it’s an inappropriate and unnecessary relationship for the richest guy in town to befriend a high school star athlete. 

ESPN wanted to probe into the relationship and found it curious that Tressel would contact Sarniak about the brewing scandal, but was denied a copy of the email by Ohio State citing FERPA, a law that protects student privacy. 

ESPN’s full brief can be found here in which they assert that the emails in question should not fall under FERPA. They’re asking for the emails to be turned over and for Ohio State to pay for their legal fees.

We actually have someone on AA’s staff who is currently studying for the bar who might be a better person to get into the legal specifics. It’s not really clear who has the inside track on this case and what Ohio State’s response will be.

Even before this recent scandal, Ohio State fans along with fans of other power programs have always conjured up the belief that ESPN has some type of agenda against the program. With so many pundits and hours of coverage, there is always something to grasp at to build the case that there is some type of conspiracy against the program.

This sentiment gained a lot of traction as Ohio State found itself in the news cycle and subject to months of investigative reporting that turned up a myriad of additional illegal benefits but little else that tied directly to the athletic department and coaching staff. The most common gripe is that months were spent on this story while schools who have actually been hit with stiffer allegations by the NCAA or the media (Oregon, UNC, Auburn) have seemed to produce a fraction of coverage and investigative reports.

Matt Yoder commented when this story first broke that ESPN’s Mark May went so far as to ridiculously propose a conspiracy theory in favor of the Big Ten and against the SEC.  Now, with this lawsuit, you have to wonder if the largest sports media company in the world and the 2nd largest athletic department have changed their facebook status from “In A Relationship” to “It’s Complicated”.

It remains to be seen if there is anything juicy in that email or who has the law on their side. The thing to consider here that these two entities work together closely and quite frankly need each other. College Gameday needs approval to film on campus, the Big Ten needs Ohio State’s support to extend television deals with ESPN, and both rely heavily on each other in many facets.

With the Ohio State scandal winding down, is it really wise on a PR level for the grossly profitable ESPN to be suing a public university for legal fees? Beating a dead horse or are they carrying the flag for investigative journalism? 

Either way, it will be extremely interesting to see how these entities co-exist going forward with this lawsuit being filed.

Ben Koo

About Ben Koo

Copying and pasting my Twitter bio. I'm also refusing (for now) to write this in the third person. This is me - CEO of @Bloguin, GM at @AwfulAnnouncing, world's greatest chinese jew, proud Buckeye, funny dude, and sports and digital media zealot.

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