Universities that deny requests for records about athletes may be interpreting too broadly a federal education law that protects the privacy of students’ academic records, a federal education official said Monday.

The official, Paul Gammill, said the Department of Education was taking a closer look at how universities carried out the privacy law, known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (Ferpa), in the wake of a series of articles published recently in The Columbus Dispatch that found the law was often misused by college athletic departments seeking to withhold documents from public scrutiny that could be damaging or embarrassing. The reports also found wide disparities in the types of information that universities released.

“There seems to be some difference in the way the law is interpreted,” said Gammill, who oversees compliance with the federal law. He also plans to meet next month with the N.C.A.A. to discuss their compliance with the law.

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