The details of the settlement between David Ridpath and Marshall University were released last week, after Andrew Clevenger questioned, on the Charleston Gazette’s new Sustained Outrage blog, what was taking so long, considering that the parties had agreed to settle around the beginning of February. 

Marshall will pay Ridpath $200,000 and will write a letter of clarification to the NCAA Committee on Infractions, which absolves Ridpath of any responsibility for major violations that resulted in four years’ probation for Marshall’s athletic program and stripped the football and basketball programs of scholarships.  Clevenger wrote this post after the terms had been disclosed.

The settlement ends what may have been the demise of Ridpath’s professional career and an episode that reflects very poorly on Marshall and its leadership during the time Ridpath was employed there.

Marshall hired Ridpath as its compliance director for its athletic department in 1997.  In 1999, when instances of academic fraud in Marshall’s football program surfaced, Ridpath notified the NCAA, which initiated an investigation. 

Marshall reassigned Ridpath in 2001, making him its director of judicial programs, although he lacked the background for the position, and giving him a raise, which made his salary $15,000 more than his predecessor in the position.  And even though Marshall had agreed to tell the NCAA and to state publicly that Ridpath’s reassignment was not the result of any wrongdoing on his part, Marshall’s special legal counsel later informed the NCAA that Ridpath’s reassignment had been a “corrective action” taken by Marshall in order to remedy its violations of the NCAA’s rules.

Ridpath’s reassignment by itself was problematic, but Marshall’s statement was intended to blame Ridpath for Marshall’s violations – the same ones he reported to the NCAA in 1999 in his capacity as compliance director.

In July 2003, Marshall relieved Ridpath of his responsibilities as adjunct professor in the Exercise and Sports Science Department (a position he had assumed around the time he was hired as compliance director), but not as director of judicial programs, apparently as a result of negative comments he made about Marshall during the NCAA investigation.  

Ridpath first filed suit in 2002, but voluntarily dismissed the action in July 2003.  A month later, he filed another action against Marshall, its then-president, Dan Angel, its then-football coach, Bob Pruett, its general counsel, Layton Cottrill, and others. 

Here is Ridpath’s amended complaint, in which he asserted claims for violation of his right to due process, his right to First Amendment expression, and for civil conspiracy, all under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as for breach of contract, fraud, outrageous conduct, tortious interference with a contract, legal malpractice (against Marshall’s attorneys who represented both Ridpath and the university before the NCAA and assured Ridpath he did not need separate counsel), and violation of public policy.  Ridpath v. Board of Governors Marshall University, Civil Action No. 3:03-CV-02037 (S.D.W.Va. 2003).

Ridpath alleged that he was a "convenient scapegoat" when his defense of Marshall’s position "was not well-received by the NCAA Committee on Infractions[,]" and that the defendants "sacrificed Ridpath’s career in intercollegiate athletics in an effort to gain favorable treatment from the Committee on Infractions for rules violations which occurred in its high profile football program …."

The United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia denied in part certain defendants’ motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, rejecting the defendants’ assertion of qualified immunity on Ridpath’s § 1983 claims.   

The defendants’ appealed, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s dismissal, holding, inter alia, that the university board of governors’ and administrators acting in their official capacities were not entitled to qualified immunity, and that Ridpath sufficiently alleged claims for First Amendment retaliation in connection with the termination of his teaching duties and First Amendment “chilling” in connection with alleged personal and professional threats made against him if he spoke publicly about the NCAA investigation.  Ridpath v. Bd. of Governors Marshall University, 447 F.3d 292 (4th Cir. 2006).

After the case was remanded to district court, the parties proceeded with discovery, and informed the court of a settlement on February 2, the day before trial.

Ridpath is currently an assistant professor of sports administration at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.  His lawyer, Roger Forman, acknowledged that Marshall’s letter to the NCAA was most important to Ridpath, so we’ll see whether other schools consider Ridpath for a position as compliance director.