Even though his impressions of Neuheisel are of a guy who plays fast and loose with the truth, David Ridpath is delighted the former University of Washington football coach has taken a bite out of the organization that purports to regulate college athletics.
"You would not believe how they jump on people and how they target people," Ridpath said yesterday from his office in Starkville, Miss.
Actually, after reading about NCAA tactics the past few weeks, I think I might.
"For years they have skewered people for not following the rules as they see them," Ridpath said. "... They hold people to a different standard, and yet when held to that same standard they throw money and try to spin themselves out of trouble."
Ridpath, an associate professor of sport administration at Mississippi State University, knows the skewer's sting as intimately as anyone. Four years ago, when he was athletic compliance director at Marshall University in West Virginia, he was run through and then slow-roasted over the NCAA's coals.
His story is fascinating because it's similar to what occurred at the UW, except for who took the fall and ended up suing the university.
In the case at Marshall, it wasn't the football coach. Bob Pruett is still going strong, even after his football program was hit with four years' probation by the NCAA. Instead, it was Ridpath, who held the position analogous to that of Dana Richardson, author of the infamous UW memo that said participation by athletic department personnel in "March Madness" basketball betting pools was permissible.
Ridpath never did anything as egregious. His "crime" was not being aware of a scam that allowed Marshall athletes to "earn" $25 an hour for doing little or no work at a company owned by a longtime booster. He had been hired to clean up a messy program, but he became the scapegoat when the university hired a pricey attorney to protect itself and its high-profile employees like Pruett.
Why do I believe him?
Because Marshall University promoted Ridpath and gave him a raise after it got slapped by the NCAA. That would tend to silence most people, but the NCAA dossier on Ridpath has a black mark next to his name, which means he isn't likely to get another job in the compliance field.
So he is suing Marshall and Pruett, he has testified before Congress and he's happy to talk to just about anyone else about the NCAA's excesses in rule enforcement. Since the NCAA doesn't have to abide by the sort of due process we're accustomed to seeing in the American system of jurisprudence, Ridpath says it is free to do just about anything it wants in investigating suspected doers of wrong.
Visions of thumb screws in a dungeon and firing squads at dawn float immediately to mind. Ridpath indicated it's not far from the truth.
"I've seen them make people cry, belittle people, use covert racism, tell lawyers to shut up and say they have no rights," he said. "It's unlike anything you've ever seen.
"They will ruin the reputations and careers of anyone who doesn't follow or who misinterprets the rules as they see them."
Ridpath said he believes he and Neuheisel were targeted because they didn't cave in.
"I was very vigorous in defending Marshall," he said, "and if you give the NCAA static, they don't like that. They will get you in the end because they know they can."
Ridpath finds particularly sweet irony in the NCAA's complaint that it wasn't able to mount a full defense in the Neuheisel trial because of a ruling by Judge Michael Spearman that arose out of a discovery that the NCAA had changed its bylaws but hadn't notified Neuheisel's defense team.
"I was not allowed to give my case, either," he said. "I was shot down as some incompetent nut job. ... When the NCAA took me down, it was a sad day for college athletics because I cared about the rules and I was shown the door."