While serving as assistant athletic director for compliance and student services at Marshall University from 1997 through 2001, Ridpath unearthed violations of several NCAA rules. These violations included overt academic fraud and impermissible, booster-devised employment for members of the Marshall University football team-a team had taken the nation by storm because of its incredible success on the field. Ridpath now chronicles his experiences through this trying time in Tainted Glory: Marshall University, the NCAA, and One Man's Fight for Justice.
Instead of being hailed as a conquering hero determined to clean up an outlaw program, Ridpath had the tables turned on him. He found himself out of a job when Marshall University and the NCAA determined that the path of least resistance would be to remove him rather than address the issues head-on. With this action, they hoped to avoid damaging the university, the athletic department, and the NCAA overall.
This story is about more than the NCAA or Marshall University. It is about the state of the business of intercollegiate athletics told by someone on the inside who lived it-the good and the bad.
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TAINTED GLORYMarshall University, the NCAA, and One Man's Fight for Justice
By B. David Ridpath
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 B. David Ridpath
All right reserved.
It was November , 1997, and in my mind I had arrived. I was making the cross-country drive from my former home in Ogden, Utah to my new one in Huntington, West Virginia, and it was probably the most pleasant drive of my life.
It was a dreary day - gray, cold, and rainy - as, along with my very pregnant wife, Jacqueline, I approached Huntington on Ohio Highway 52 after two long days of driving. "Not exactly the scenic West Virginia I was picturing," she said, patting her belly. She was due in two months with our first child. We passed through the blue-collar towns of Portsmouth and Ironton, Ohio and Ashland, Kentucky, a journey that gives a motorist a good view of dilapidated steel mills, boarded-up shops, and the occasional smokestack with huge flames shooting out. "This is not as pretty as Utah," she said. She was right, it did look awful on this day but I was beginning to tire of her lack of faith in our new home. I knew it would get better. "Everything is going to work out fine," I assured her.
Huntington itself is situated on the banks of the Ohio and Big Sandy Rivers, smack-dab in the middle (as many West Virginians would say) of the Rust Belt, visible to the south and east of those towns in Ohio and Kentucky. While it is a large city by West Virginia standards, it is a small U.S. city whose population dwindled precipitously with the decline of the American industrial complex, specifically the decline of the steel and coal industries.
When I arrived in late 1997, Huntington was a city of slightly over 50,000 people, and the population was once twice that. It is a city of hard- working, outwardly religious, politically conservative, and mostly poor people. Huntington has taken its shots and survived the boarded-up windows downtown, and the hundreds of jobless citizens, with Marshall University - notably its much-beloved football program - at the forefront of the city's sense of community. Many of the boarded up windows had football scheduling posters hung on the plywood and the fire hydrants were even painted green and white — the colors of the beloved Thundering Herd.
"The town really perks up on a sunny day," I said.
"I sure hope so," she said.
My cheerfulness had much less to do with the physical journey we were undertaking, and more with the metaphorical road I had traveled to get to Marshall. Just a few years earlier in 1993, I was working in Augusta, Georgia, not in the golf industry, but managing a Taco Bell on Washington Road about a mile away from the storied Augusta National Golf Club. Even though I was physically close to the cathedral of golf, stuffing tacos and burritos every day was about as far away from my career dreams as one could be, but I was as determined as ever to one day make an impact in sports. I spent whatever spare time I had volunteering in the sports information department at nearby Augusta College to gain experience. Jacqueline had moved with me from her native Germany and was working as an au pair for a military family that was stationed at nearby Fort Gordon.
Prior to working at Taco Bell, you could have found me in the ball-bearing factory town of Schweinfurt, Germany, finishing up a four-year tour as a Field Artillery Officer for the 3rd Infantry Division of the United States Army, and dreaming of a life in sports. I had joined the Army as a 17-year-old kid in 1982, in a quest to find a job, a sense of direction, and a way out of a dysfunctional home life in Manitou Springs, Colorado. I was also a certifiable sports nut, though my athletic ability was not enough to carry me to college. The Army offered me a chance to get a great start in life and an outlet to continue participating in athletics. I traveled the world as a member of the Army's wrestling program. I had remained in the Army in some capacity for over 11 years, even during my four years as an undergraduate student at Colorado State University, where I participated in Army ROTC and was a member of the Colorado Army National Guard.
All the while, sports were the number one source of was good in my life, and even when I returned to active duty upon graduation from CSU in 1990, I knew that athletics were the place I wished to be. The Army was a great life, but it was no longer what I wanted to do. My professional goals were to be in the sports industry. I knew I wanted to do something else, but was not sure exactly what, nor how to get there.
It was shortly after beginning my Field Artillery Officer Basic Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in the Fall of 1990 that I had an epiphany. One of those moments that you wonder if it didn't happen where would you be? I had just stepped out of the shower and was preparing to head out for a long Saturday of watching college football at a Lawton, Oklahoma Sports Bar called Champs. The television was tuned to ESPN (as usual) and at the beginning of one of my favorite shows, This Week in Baseball, there was a tease about a university that trained future administrators in the sports industry.
Intrigued and still dripping wet, I sat on the edge of my bed and waited for the segment that would tell me more about this university. I listened as commentator Warner Fusselle described the Sport Administration and Facility Management Graduate Program at Ohio University. He talked about graduates like then-Oakland A's general manager Andy Dolich, and Rick Sund, then GM of the Dallas Mavericks, among others who worked in college athletics, NASCAR, and the World Wrestling Federation.
As much as I thought I knew about sports, I never knew there were programs like this where someone could actually get a master's degree and go on to work in the industry. I knew immediately that this was exactly what I wanted to do, and I wished that I did not have four more years to serve in the Army as a result of being commissioned as a Regular Army Officer in 1990. Still, my desire had been rekindled, and now there was an exact plan of what to do and where to go to start my sports career.
When my second tour in Germany finally ended in 1993, along with my time in the Army, I was no less determined to find my way to Ohio University Unfortunately; I was woefully unprepared for the process of gaining admission. The university would typically admit only 25-30 people per year to the Sports Administration Program, out of hundreds of applicants worldwide, and the interview process was arduous and geared toward someone who already had experience in the sports industry. I simply did not have the credentials and my application was justifiably rejected, but I persisted throughout the next year, soliciting advice from students who had been on the interview committee and also with Dr. Charles "Doc" Higgins, who was the director of the program at the time. My second interview at Ohio went almost perfectly. I was better prepared; more relaxed, and was accepted in the summer of 1994 to start graduate school. It was not too hard to quit Taco Bell and pack up a U-Haul and move to Athens, Ohio and Ohio University.
My experience at Ohio University during graduate school was probably one the best of my life. In addition to getting married my second day in town (Jacqueline's student visa was running out, though I kept my promise and eventually took her back to Germany for a formal wedding two years later), I had an opportunity to be part of a top-notch graduate program, network with movers and shakers in the industry, learn from the best in the business, and be associated with classmates who to this day are some of my best friends, many of whom have gone on to great careers in the sports industry.
In addition to my formal studies, I was given the opportunity to serve as the graduate assistant coach of the wrestling team, learning from collegiate wrestling legend Harry Houska and gaining an insider's perspective that would be critical in my future dealings with coaches and within the realm of NCAA compliance. Harry was struggling with a longtime congenital heart ailment, and many times I was thrust into important responsibilities in the areas of coaching and management. I was attending staff meetings, meeting with the senior athletic staff, coordinating recruiting visits, dealing with budget and financial aid issues, and even serving as acting head coach when the other assistants were on the road recruiting. This was a bit of a baptism by fire for someone who was making tacos with a bunch of high school-aged employees a few months before, but the experience was invaluable.
One of the requirements of the graduate program at Ohio, after serving a year-plus in residence, was securing a one-year internship in the sports world. All internships for members of the Sports Administration program had to be paid, and all students had to be treated as employees with real responsibility. I was initially focused - perhaps a little too focused - on working in college athletics at a big-time school. I interviewed with the likes of Florida, Georgia, and Auburn, and felt I was close to a marketing internship at the University of Nebraska, but none of these positions panned out. It turned out to be a longer road for me than the rest of my classmates, but it was understandable, as most of my peers had much more experience and a better-established network. In fact, I was one of the final members in my class of 30 to get an internship or job after leaving the residency.
One big opportunity for me to find a job or internship would be at the capstone event of my academic year-in-residence at Ohio, the annual Ohio University Sports Administration Symposium, which functions as an alumni reunion and professional development seminar. I interviewed for several internship positions that weekend, including some with "big-time" schools, one with the Mid-Continent Conference, and another - just for the experience - with Weber State University. I had visions of getting a position at Florida or Auburn. I was even offered a media relations spot at the Mid-Continent Conference, but turned it down in the hopes that I would get one of the bigger jobs that I coveted. In the end, the Auburn and Florida positions went to other, more deserving, classmates of mine. While I did not completely regret turning down the Mid-Con, I was kind of kicking myself for doing so as it would have at least been a place to start my career. My plan at the time was to continue working with the wrestling program at Ohio U., while hoping that something would break.
Initially, I had no desire to work at Weber State. Selfishly and naively, I wanted the big time and I thought my career progression would stagnate if I started at a "small school." Weber was not a complete unknown to me, since their men's basketball team had an incredible Cinderella run in the 1995 NCAA tournament, beating Michigan State and nearly toppling Georgetown before losing on a last-second shot, but I could not shake the small-time image from my head. Yet here was Weber State, and then-Associate Athletic Director, Steve Rackley, pursuing me for a marketing internship. Rackley, a fellow alumnus of the Ohio U. Sports Administration program, offered me a chance to come out for an in-person interview. I went to Ogden, Utah for the interview with no real idea if I would take the internship, or even if the staff would like me. There was a part of me still waiting for that call from the "big time" school, but it turned out that the Weber State offer was a pretty good one, at least on the surface. The pay would be $1250 per month with full benefits, almost unheard-of compensation in the low-paid world of internships in athletic administration. I was thirty, newly married, and money mattered. I wasn't in a position to turn this down.
Rackley did a great job selling Weber State as a great place to start my career. "Smaller schools give you the opportunity to do more and you will be treated as a full time employee," he continually said. "You won't just be making coffee; you will be doing tangible things that will make you more marketable for the next job."
It made sense. I accepted the internship at Weber, and lucky for me I wouldn't be an intern for very long.
Chapter TwoBuilding a Winner
Working as a marketing intern at a place like Weber State was a great experience, though a bit humbling at the same time. I was older than many of the people to whom I was reporting, but knew I wasn't entitled to expect any different given my career change.
While I was a marketing intern at WSU, my duties were pretty diverse, which was exactly what I needed at this early stage in my career. I developed promotional and marketing plans for all sports in the department, secured sponsorship and trade deals, and solicited ticket sales, group sales and promotions. On game days, I received a terrific crash-course in game management, game promotions and marketing, and of course there were the dreaded "other duties as assigned." In all, it was a most valuable education, one I certainly could not have received sitting in a classroom somewhere.
My first direct boss was a young man by the name of Chad Gerrety, who was in his early 20's when he became the Director of Marketing at WSU and, by his own admission, resembled Opie from the old Andy Griffith show. We were certainly Mutt and Jeff because we could not have been more different in age and experience, but Chad was experienced beyond his years and worked hard to get to where he was in the profession. Chad was egoless, an excellent person from whom to learn, and also had no problem leading and giving direction. Like a good soldier, I did what I was told and learned what I could. Chad and I developed a good working relationship and a friendship. After spending not even a full year working under Chad, and just before my year in Ogden was due to be completed, Weber State received notice that our highest-profile program - the men's basketball team - was under investigation by the NCAA.
Steve Rackley pulled me aside shortly after the notice came, and wanted to gauge my interest for a full-time job as the university's NCAA Compliance Coordinator. One of the problems that the NCAA investigators were beginning to hone in on was that there had not been anyone devoted to compliance on a full-time basis at WSU, and Steve thought that it might be a good pre-emptive move for us to get this position approved and get someone immediately working on improving the culture of rules compliance in the Weber State athletic department.
I was bowled over, and it took me very little time to say yes. Though my only experience with compliance had come in a limited capacity while I was a graduate assistant for the wrestling program at Ohio U., when weighed against the fact that my salary was being doubled, I was getting my own office, and being afforded the opportunity to serve in a vital, permanent position in a Division I athletic department, there wasn't much need for deliberation.
My career had been jump-started, and everything seemed to be going as planned. Of course, I had no real idea what I was getting myself into. Andy Dolich, the Ohio U. Graduate School product and then-Oakland A's general manager who I had seen on that mind-blowing This Week in Baseball segment all those years ago, once told me that to make your mark in athletics, you had to attach yourself to a disaster.
Luckily, and unluckily, Weber State was a compliance disaster. To be fair, most schools had not really caught on to the new trend of employing full-time professionals to handle NCAA compliance, and Weber was no exception. All too often, institutions would short-change compliance as a way to save money, making the program an ancillary duty for a staff member or coach, or a primary responsibility for an administrative assistant or green graduate assistant.
At Weber State, prior to my appointment, compliance was an additional duty for Steve Rackley, and as Associate AD he simply had too much on his plate to oversee a compliance program effectively.
Even though I was initially unprepared to take on such a daunting task, I jumped into it as thoroughly as possible. I relished the opportunity and challenge, so I began to cram and get up to speed on what it took to be an effective compliance coordinator and get a better grasp on the ever-growing rules and regulations of the NCAA. Even with my coaching experience and involvement in recruiting, eligibility, academics, and financial aid, there was much more to learn and many things to do at Weber State.
First and foremost, I was determined that we would play by the rules. Part of that insistence was innate, and part of my military background, but I felt we had to do what was written. I came from a decidedly black-and-white kind of experience, and NCAA rules can be gray, but I felt the rules could be followed and the envelope should not have to push to the level of violations and investigations. Some NCAA rules are silly when actually executed, and some seem impractical or nonsensical, but it was the game we signed on to play, and it was my job to ensure that everyone at Weber knew the playbook.
Excerpted from TAINTED GLORY by B. David Ridpath Copyright © 2012 by B. David Ridpath. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword By Dale Brown....................xiii
Foreword By Dr. Richard Vedder....................xv
Chapter 1 Kickoff....................6
Chapter 2 Building a Winner....................11
Chapter 3 Meeting the Players....................16
Chapter 4 Ashes to Glory....................23
Chapter 5 Baby Steps....................29
Chapter 6 Trouble in Paradise....................34
Chapter 7 The Tools of Power....................39
Chapter 8 Friends Without Benefits....................44
Chapter 9 Under the Gun....................47
Chapter 10 Red-Zone Violation....................53
Chapter 11 Private Investigation....................60
Chapter 12 The Masterplan....................73
Chapter 13 Misdirection....................81
Chapter 14 The Big Dig....................91
Chapter 15 A Scapegoat Emerges....................101
Chapter 16 Wading Through....................109
Chapter 17 The Eye of the Hurricane....................116
Chapter 18 Seeking Shelter....................123
Chapter 19 The Hearing....................132
Chapter 20 Breaking Down....................143
Chapter 21 A Not-So-Clean Break....................150
Chapter 22 White Lies....................154
Chapter 23 Weighing the Options....................161
Chapter 24 The Report....................167
Chapter 25 Igniting the Flame....................177
Chapter 26 Upping the Ante....................190
Chapter 27 Endgame....................198
Postscript: What Can be done to fix College Sports??....................223