UK withholds some information about student athletes

LEXINGTON, KY -- Citing a federal law that protects student academic records, the University of Kentucky withheld information about student athletes in a variety of documents from a newspaper conducting a nationwide investigation, reports The Lexington Herald-Leader in its Sunday edition.

Although the university redacted names and other information from dozens of documents given to The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, T. Lynn Williamson, UK's senior associate general counsel, said that UK prides itself on providing information to the public.

"We are a public institution, and the taxpayers have a right to know what's going on," Williamson said.

Still, UK must adhere to language in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act that considers all records "that relate directly to the student and are maintained by the institution" to be confidential, he said.

UK provided The Dispatch with names of people who received complimentary football tickets from coaches, but refused to give the newspaper any information on the complimentary football tickets that student athletes give family and friends.

The Department of Education says that those records are public, according to The Dispatch.

Williamson told the Herald-Leader Thursday that he would review the Department of Education's position on the complimentary tickets distributed by athletes and said that if its policy calls for a different interpretation of the law, "we will change what we do."

"There are hundreds of rulings on these things, and you do your best interpretation," he said.

Williamson said that in deciding which records to release, UK not only looks to FERPA, but also to Kentucky open records laws.

The Dispatch sent public records requests to 119 universities to gauge their openness on football-related documents: passenger lists for travel to sporting events, complimentary tickets that athletes give to family and friends, athletes' summer employment and NCAA violations of all athletic programs.

Three schools — Eastern Michigan, Louisiana-Monroe and Utah State — censored no information and gave The Dispatch all of the football-related records. Other schools provided information to various degrees. But out of the four specific requests, the only information UK provided in full was the passenger lists for travel to away football games.

In withholding information, UK cited FERPA.

When providing documents about NCAA violations, UK routinely blacked out the names of students and some non-students.

The DOE says those NCAA violations records probably are private, but James L. Buckley, the former U.S. senator who crafted the student privacy law, disagreed, telling The Dispatch that the law was supposed to protect only grades and academic matters, reports The Lexington Herald Leader.

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