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In the News: We may be looking at another ugly legal chapter

AVID RIDPATH filed a defamation lawsuit against many. He filed against former Marshall president Dan Angel. He filed against two other high-ranking MU officials. He filed against an attorney. Even the university itself. But there's little doubt, this lawsuit centers on two. It centers on Ridpath or, more specifically, his reputation. And it centers on Bob Pruett.

AVID RIDPATH filed a defamation lawsuit against many.

He filed against former Marshall president Dan Angel. He filed against two other high-ranking MU officials. He filed against an attorney. Even the university itself.

But there's little doubt, this lawsuit centers on two.

It centers on Ridpath or, more specifically, his reputation.

And it centers on Bob Pruett.

"Hell hath no fury like a scorned compliance director,'' said local attorney Rusty Webb, who recently completed media work on the Rich Rodriguez lawsuit.

For the general population, the story simply has a sensational appeal. Even for Marshall athletic fans, there's not much meat. The NCAA made a ruling way back in December of 2001. When reached on Tuesday, one representative said the ruling body "doesn't comment on pending or ongoing lawsuits.''

I guess it could, however, have an interest in regard to Pruett.

The ex-MU football coach has exited retirement to become the defensive coordinator at the University of Virginia.

Yes, he could be retired again when the lawsuit ends. But if some of Ridpath's charges are substantiated, the NCAA or, more likely, the University of Virginia may, as some in these parts say, have to step on Pruett's tail.

At this point, Virginia coach Al Groh is backing Pruett.

When asked during a press conference if the lawsuit "could be a distraction for Coach Pruett,'' Groh called the lawsuit "quite a dated issue.''

"It's been before the NCAA and legal system,'' said the Virginia head coach. "We're well aware of it ... both previous to Bob's coming here and subsequently. We're comfortable with the situation as we know it to be.''

We'll certainly let the court hash its decision. But what Groh can't be comfortable with are depositions from former MU players Charles Tynes and Sam Goines as well as ex-MU strength and conditioning coach Mike Jenkins. Testimony from a man like Kevin Klotz, a compliance official who once worked under Ridpath, can be shrugged off.

But Tynes, Goines and Jenkins don't appear to have a dog in the hunt. Their testimony, at least from the surface, looks damaging.

One can also go back to May of 2006. It was then that a federal appeals court ruled in a scathing opinion that the lawsuit could continue. Judge Robert King wrote the opinion for the 4th Circuit saying the case may "present a murky picture of why'' Ridpath was removed from a teaching position. King wrote the action "goes to its very core'' of "chilling'' First Amendment rights.

Pruett, of course, is firing back. No one who knows the coach would expect anything less.

But if a summary judgment for dismissal isn't granted - or if a settlement isn't reached - we could be staring at another ugly state legal sports chapter.

The story has already gone nationwide. A version was on the Associated Press' national wire on Tuesday. ("Sworn affidavits in a federal lawsuit implicate former Marshall football coach Bob Pruett in an academic scandal and a jobs program for athletes that drew NCAA violations,'' reads the account.) It's been on CBSSportsline.com.

Will some of the ugliness rub off on Mark Snyder's attempt to rebuild the Thundering Herd? Maybe. Probably not. But it can't be helpful in regard to recruiting. If some forgot MU's violations, they are being reminded now. And stories, from what I understand, can be forwarded via this thing called the Internet.

In Charlottesville, those at the University of Virginia, which prides itself on high standards, have to be grinding their teeth.

Ridpath, though, seems determined.

And scorned.

By Mitch Vingle
Sports Editor

WV Gazette 


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