A Review of Tainted Glory: Marshall University, the NCAA, and One Man’s Fight for Justice: by B. David Ridpath. (This review is divided into two parts; the second will appear tomorrow.)
“Dave, I thought you told me I could do this!” — former Marshall U Head Football Coach Bob Pruett to then-Compliance Director David Ridpath, referring to the long-running and illegal ‘Jobs-for-Jocks’ program Pruett operated and concealed.
Do not ignore this book. It is one of the most important college sports books of the decade. It’s not co-written, ghost-written, celebrity-written, or dictated by some famous talking-head former player. But it takes you to the dark-heart nitty-gritty of college sports. You might ignore it, I’d guess, if you’re one who’s grown up turning on SportsCenter at six-thirty every morning, and thinking all this time that the byzantine NCAA bureaucracy and their enforcement arm are due as much toe-kissing respect as …the Vatican. No. Not the Vatican. The IRS. No. Not that either. As much respect as….gee, I don’t know, really….who-all deserves any sort of free-pass respect, anymore? Certainly not the NCAA, as Marshall’s first Compliance Director, Author David Ridpath almost single-handedly proves here. It’s a cesspool.
Ridpath’s earnestness lasted four years at Marshall, from 1997 through 2001; when first hired, he says, he thought he’d be able to fix the “fast and loose” habits of Marshall’s big-time football operation – and that he’d been hired to do so. He was wrong on both counts. Ridpath drags out for us here – from behind the largely impenetrable curtain the NCAA and its’ member schools customarily use to keep big-time college sports compliance hidden — a brutally honest description of the wacko, amoral Marshall athletics operation — much of which rested squarely atop one long-running and audacious apparent fraud worked by former Marshall Head Football Coach Bob Pruett to conceal a clandestine, no-work-for-high-pay ‘Jobs-for-Jocks’ scheme which was clearly a critical cog in generating their winning football program.
There’s no evidence to support Pruett’s thin-voiced, craven statement (“Dave, I thought you told me I could do this!”) quoted at the top here; in contrast, there’s a long list of evidence proving that Pruett and his main-money-source booster repeatedly lied in serially denying the existence of any Jobs for Jocks scheme. And more than a couple of Pruett’s players finally admitted both that they’d been explicitly recruited with reference to Jobs for Jocks, and that they’d been told repeatedly by Pruett to deny its’ existence. Yet Marshall’s sorry cast of big shots — including the President, General Counsel, Athletics Director and Pruett — along with, apparently NCAA’s staffers and Committee on Infractions, all, at one time or another, tried to make Ridpath the Fall Guy. They initially succeeded.
In fact, in the autumn of 2001, in response to the NCAA Committee on Infractions’ finding of Jobs-for-Jocks and other violations, Marshall’s President and General Counsel informed Ridpath — to Ridpath’s legitimate surprise — that he (using the odd NCAA double-speak) had been “made a corrective action”, which is translated to mean that he would be: a) the principal “Fall Guy” for the fraud engineered and executed by others at Marshall; b) explicitly listed as one of the causes of the violations; and c) severed from all Compliance responsibilities, with re-assignment to the university’s student judiciary department.
But Ridpath didn’t follow the standard script in Athletics Compliance, which is for the Compliance Officer to always be the guy (or woman — in the case of former Michigan Compliance Head Judy Van Horn) who — after NCAA violation comes to light, and the false light of blame, as usual, is cast directly upon an unsuspecting compliance officer — pads quietly out some garage back door, either voluntarily and/or after whispered “encouragement” from a complicit (and often contemptible) Athletics Director. Ridpath, in contrast, dug in his heels.
A phrase from the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” describes the current status of the profit-drenched college Sports-Entertainment Complex run by the nominally “not-for-profit” NCAA: “Mad bull lost its’ way.” What started as mostly recreational college sport some 150 years ago has slowly morphed into an Athletics/Entertainment Complex which – like the rest of the entertainment industry – uses human experience as an article of commerce. Ridpath’s chronicle of the twisted-mirror football administration nuthouse created and countenanced by Marshall’s top coach and highest administrators takes place during the Later Middle Ages of college sport, at time when the now out-of-control profit-seeking Mad Bull had more recently initiated a rise from off its’ knob-knees — having feasted for the previous decade or so on a new super-rich mother’s milk of whopping TV and sports-apparel contracts– to since then range more menacing every year across most every big time “academic” institution. College Compliance departments and directors sprung up during those Later Middle Ages, in an attempt — depending on the school – to either track and control — or just pretend to track and control, that Mad Bull. Most pretend. Marshall pretended, during the Ridpath era.
Ridpath fits few stereotypes. His instauration of the first Marshall Compliance department occurred with no training — because no such training existed at the time. And Ridpath shows a more than occasional knack for the gratuitous ad hominem counterpunch (he admits he “can be temperamental and confrontational when the situation warrants.“) But understand the context: everyone else at Marshall was winking at each other. Everyone at the NCAA winks. The wink is the lingua franca which unites all “member-schools” of the NCAA. It’s a winking zeitgeist. But Ridpath does not wink. So Ridpath was extremely isolated. He’s also a foxhole character whose integrity and grit needs to be explicitly recognized. You can almost hear them, through these pages — the Marshall athletics-department foot-soldiers and mucky-mucks, or the NCAA COI hearing attendees: laughing at him. He doesn’t get it. He’s condescended to. Almost every possible social and professional pressure was brought to bear upon Ridpath, during his long, unfair lynching at Marshall, to “go along” and enable the culture of cheating which ran rampant at Marshall. He “doesn’t get” what everybody else does: it’s all just fakery anyway.
Tomorrow: Compliance Officers as Enablers or Enforcers (Ridpath an Enforcer); NCAA proceedings as High School Musicals meant to fool the public.