The Raleigh News & Observer filed a lawsuit this week against University of North Carolina Chancellor Carol Folt.
The paper wants access to a spreadsheet compiled from student transcripts related to no-show classes.
Executive Editor John Drescher told WNCN the N&O requested the records in early 2013 and lawyers got involved in June.
Drescher said UNC leaders gave the paper records from 2006 to 2011 but have refused to provide similar data from before 2006.
In a statement released earlier this week, the University said, "Those records are protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The information sought, even in a redacted form, would allow some students to be identified with reasonable certainty when linked with other previously available information about student-athletes."
Joel Curran, vice chancellor for communications and public affairs at the University said the school will vigorously defend the privacy rights of its students.
"We respect the rights of the news media to seek public records," Curran said. "However, in this case, we feel strongly that the records in question are protected by the federal privacy law."
Drescher told WNCN the paper was not able to identify students with the previous data provided by UNC.
"We're not interested in identifying specific students. I don't know how that would be possible," Drescher said.
Even though the N&O was open to a compromise, the University has not shown interest in that, Drescher said. He believes the decision will be made by a judge in court.
The lawsuit was filed on the same day Folt addressed the ongoing issues with Trustees.
"All of those students involved in those courses deserved better from us," Folt said.
The lawsuit also comes after weeks of headlines dominated by controversial research by UNC reading specialist Mary Willingham, who said 60 percent of football and basketball players in her research read at or below an eighth-grade reading level.
The University has disputed her numbers, saying the data she used did not measure grade level.