Ridpath book a blast from the past
AFTER SCRATCHING out a hard-fought victory in the courts, David Ridpath now throws the book at Marshall University and its all-time winningest football coach, Bob Pruett, as well as the NCAA.
More than a decade after losing his career as part of the 2001 NCAA sanctions against the MU athletic program, Ridpath has released his book Tainted Glory: Marshall University, the NCAA and One Man's Fight for Justice.
The book is published by iUniverse Inc. of Bloomington, Ind., and can be downloaded as an e-book for $3.03, or bought in paperback for $13.96 through Amazon.
If you're connected to Thundering Herd athletics to any degree, this book doesn't just open old wounds; it rubs them with 24-grit sandpaper.
Emotion aside, Ridpath's book seems to be well-researched and contains richly detailed endnotes. It needed another layer of editing - I mentally had my red pen out at times, such as when an extra "s" was added to the word "as" in an endnote.
That aside, the writing is generally clear and focused, with good transitions from chapter to chapter. I never got bored with the book, finishing it in maybe a half-dozen sittings.
Then again, when the author is holding nothing back and you know - or know of - everybody he mentions, you'll pay attention. In his introduction, Ridpath says the story "could be about Penn State, Ohio State, St. Bonaventure" and a host of scandalized schools, but it's definitely about Marshall, and the dark side thereof.
A former Army officer, Ridpath entered the wild world of college athletics by way of the sports administration graduate program at Ohio University.
He went to Weber State as a marketing intern and parlayed that into a full-time job as compliance coordinator, cleaning up an NCAA infractions mess and establishing that program's first compliance program. In 1996, assistant AD Steve Rackley moved on to Marshall and in 1997, Ridpath followed.
As one can guess, the bulk of the book deals with Ridpath's Marshall tenure, its problems with the NCAA and the legal aftermath. He sets the tone at the end of Chapter 4, when he declares, "It was apparent from the start that I had inherited one of the worst, if not the worst compliance programs in the country."
NCAA rules compliance is not for the faint of heart, and he establishes those pitfalls in describing his Weber State tenure - for example, football coaches aren't eager to "waste" their time on the subject, especially when they think their rivals aren't doing the same.
I can identify with Ridpath on many levels. A compliance officer won't win popularity contests to begin with, and Ridpath wasn't afraid of ruffling feathers if he felt his cause was just. Sometimes you just have to tell somebody what they don't want to hear, and dig your heels in to defend it.
Ridpath doesn't just detail Marshall's descent into the two-pronged NCAA scandal - academic fraud and an impermissible "jobs for props" program - he delves deeply into the many personality conflicts in a dysfunctional athletic department.
He describes athletic director Lance West's consistent failure to lead, which didn't surprise me. President J. Wade Gilley's promotion of West to the AD job is one of the most colossal blunders in the history of a university that often operates in spite of itself.
What did surprise me was Ridpath's skewering of Beatrice Crane. As Ridpath describes it, the associate AD for Olympic sports/senior woman administrator encouraged him to come to Marshall, but eventually fought him at every step.
Ridpath all but calls her the Wicked Witch of the West. Occasionally, my jaw dropped.
(Crane, now married and known as Beatrice Crane Banford, remains at MU and is probably the only person in the Shewey Athletic Building I have not even crossed paths with in a decade on this beat. Not good or bad, just odd.)
But make no mistake: Pruett is Ridpath's No. 1 target.
Ridpath tells of his first meeting with the football team, introducing players to the NCAA agent affidavit required for postseason play. He tells of having to bring the team to order himself, and then having to tell Pruett and Randy Moss to stop chatting in the back of the room. He expressed his displeasure with Pruett afterward.
"Pruett was stunned," Ridpath writes. "He now knew he had an administrator that would not back down to him and grant his every wish."
It's impossible to adequately summate Ridpath's case against Pruett. He says the coach expertly cultivated his power base with boosters, administrators in the Shewey Building (where shockingly, Ridpath's office was not located) and other quarters, including the "sycophantic, lazy media."
On the latter, he makes special mention of Chuck Landon, a Charleston columnist during the MU scandal's eruption: "Landon was a quintessential jock-sniffer who felt empowered by his almost creepy fawning association with Pruett ..."
Ridpath repeatedly assaults Pruett's veracity. In an eye-popping endnote, he tells about a 2010 conversation with Bob Marcum in Athens, Ohio, in which the former MU athletic director allegedly called Pruett a "pathological liar" and "someone who is incapable of telling the truth."
(I bounced that off of Marcum, who taught a sports business class at the University of Kentucky this semester. He had no comment.)
Ridpath details the events of the Marshall scandal as he sees them, giving the reader a rare glimpse into high-level university deliberations. Among other things, he tells about the otherwise piddling incident concerning "Prop 48" athletes working a one-night job for ESPN during its telecast of a home football game, and how it intertwined with the larger "jobs-for-props" program at a business owned by booster Marshall Reynolds.
He chronicles - and roundly blasts - the NCAA infractions process, from investigation to hearing before the Committee on Infractions. I have heard totalitarian states have better due process than the NCAA, and Ridpath would agree.
He tells about the aggressiveness of NCAA investigators, who even "harassed" MU students who weren't part of the athletic program (huh?). He also tells of one infractions committee member, University of Miami athletic director Paul Dee, dozing off during MU's hearing.
Ridpath tells how he tried to defend the university, and how poorly it played with panel members. He tells how Marshall's hired attorney, Rich Hilliard, fell largely silent during the proceedings.
As he alleges in his subsequent lawsuit, Ridpath was "offered as a sacrifice" in the university's attempt to mitigate the inevitable sanctions. He was reassigned out of the athletic department, a move the school reported to the NCAA as a self-imposed corrective action.
As Ridpath illustrates, that effectively ended his career as a compliance director. And it triggered his 2002 federal lawsuit (amended and re-filed in 2003) against the school, president Dan Angel, Hilliard, vice president for executive affairs and general counsel Layton Cottrill, senior vice president of operations Edward Grose and Pruett.
The case took much longer than it should have - for instance, it spanned nearly all of Marcum's seven-year tenure as Marshall AD, several plaintiff's lawyers and two judges. In February 2009, on the eve of the trial date and just before football's National Signing Day, a settlement was announced.
Based on depositions made public, a trial would have been a bloodbath. Marshall officials, mostly not the same Marshall officials of the late 1990s and early 2000s, had little reason to fool with it, in my opinion. The settlement was overdue.
Ridpath's relationship with fellow administrators and his performance before the Committee on Infractions would have been part of the defense, and he admits some of his less-than-stellar behavior. He tells about his explosions toward Crane, and recounts his threat-laced email to former protégé David Reed, the Beckley native who returned to run the MU compliance program before heading to Miami.
The email became public, embarrassing Ridpath. To his credit, he repeats one of the more infamous passages: "[I]f you try to protect your sorry ass useless, piece of [expletive] alma mater [meaning MU] that you couldn't even graduate from then you will hear from me."
After Ridpath sued and the case sat in the federal court system, he refined his PR methods and became a well-used source. CBSports.com became the most sympathetic media outlet, so much so that senior editor Tony Moss reviewed, edited and enhanced the manuscript of Tainted Glory.
As he took a professor job at Mississippi State and then his current position at Ohio University, his status as a martyr in college athletics mushroomed. He has sound ideas on reform, put forth in a "postscript" chapter, but at times you would think Ridpath was America's only source on the subject.
That's one of several reasons I say Ridpath won his suit against Marshall and Pruett, something Ridpath himself doesn't say. He says he received $232,000 in settlements with all defendants, "which barely covered my bills and nowhere near compensated me for the anguish my family and I went through, or the injury to my career." He also won a much-desired letter of clarification to the NCAA stating he was not responsible for major infractions listed in the 2001 report.
Marshall insisted on a "no-crow" clause, which to me is an admission of defeat. That fell well short of a non-disclosure clause, and certainly did not prevent publication of Tainted Glory.
There were several losers. When Pruett was deposed, he told of coaching opportunities lost because of the scandal. He spent a year as Al Groh's defensive coordinator at Virginia, but once faced the possibility of having to testify during a game week.
Reynolds, a walking NCAA violation, was ordered disassociated from MU athletics for five years and lost his skybox in the process. It seems he has caused the university more grief than any contributions can overcome.
Angel was pushed out of the MU presidency, in part by forces who somehow thought Reynolds could be (or should be) reinstated by the NCAA. Angel was president at tiny Golden Gate University in San Francisco when he was deposed. (Ridpath had great pleasure when, during his doctoral ceremony, he made Angel look him in the eye).
The MU football program's loss of scholarships hit hardest several years after the NCAA's 2001 levying of sanctions, as has been the case at other schools. Mark Snyder wasn't exactly Woody Hayes in head coaching acumen, but the smaller recruiting classes of 2002, 2003 and 2004 hampered him.
The university's name was dragged through the mud, deservedly to some degree. Ridpath continues that process with this book, and certainly will refer to his bad experiences at MU for years to come.
He claims no bitterness, expressing praise for current MU athletic director Mike Hamrick. From what I know, he did nothing to dissuade two current MU officials who came to Huntington from Ohio University.
But make no mistake: Ridpath knows he scored a touchdown over the Thundering Herd. And with Tainted Glory, he dunks the ball over the crossbar.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.