With the opening of preseason training camp less than two weeks away, Colorado football coach Mike MacIntyre has one less headache to worry about.
On Wednesday, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Pamela Fine, the ex-girlfriend of former Buffaloes assistant coach Joe Tumpkin, against a number of CU officials. The suit sought restitution from MacIntyre, athletic director Rick George, President Bruce Benson and Chancellor Phil DiStefano for failing to address Fine’s accusations of prolonged physical and emotional abuse from Tumpkin.
Fine’s civil suit against Tumpkin remains active, as does Tumpkin’s criminal case. Until that changes, the ugly and deflating ending to what otherwise was a resurgent 2016 season for MacIntyre and the Buffaloes will remain an ever-present shadow lurking over the program. Once the suit and the criminal case goes to court, assuming settlements don’t occur, MacIntyre likely will be forced to take the stand as a material witness in both cases.
However, with Tumpkin’s criminal case in a seemingly perpetual delay while lawyers on both sides debate various legal issues, the dismissal of the civil suit hanging over MacIntyre’s head allows CU’s leader to focus solely on getting the Buffs to take aim at posting just their second winning season since 2005.
While CU’s brass certainly made plenty of missteps once Tumpkin’s alleged abuse came to light — MacIntyre and George eventually were ordered to make $100,000 contributions to domestic violence organizations, while DiStefano absorbed a 10-day suspension for failing to properly handle the allegations against Tumpkin — holding them culpable for the abuse Fine reportedly suffered was a tenuous assertion at best.
U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez agreed, writing in his ruling: “Defendants’ alleged failure to follow the university’s rules and policies did not increase the risk of harm to (Fine) given that, as someone with no affiliation with or connection to the university, she was not within the group of individuals that the policies were designed to protect.”
MacIntyre has never admitted as much, but having the Tumpkin situation swirling in the background while he cemented his 2017 contract extension created a colossal distraction for the Buffs as they began preparations a year ago to defend their 2016 Pac-12 Conference South Division crown. It arguably set the tone for what became a bowl-less 5-7 season.
Certainly it’s debatable whether MacIntyre’s $100,000 fine/donation was a reasonable punishment for failing to properly report the allegations against Tumpkin. And handing Tumpkin the defensive coordinator role for the 2016 Alamo Bowl when MacIntyre knew the incredibly ugly accusations would soon surface publicly remains a puzzling decision for a coach who was shrewd enough to seek his own legal counsel and block further contact from Fine soon after he was clued into the situation. Yet this week’s suit dismissal clears the deck, in a sense, for MacIntyre. Whatever time he spent last year behind the scenes huddling with lawyers and preparing his civil suit defense can instead be spent breaking down film and game planning. If Tumpkin ultimately settles his civil suit and takes a plea deal, MacIntyre will never have to comment publicly on the matter ever again. MacIntyre can prep his team’s defense, not his personal defense.
For Buffs fans, that’s a good thing. The challenge of attempting to make the Buffs program an annual bowl contender is difficult enough without lawsuits clouding the picture. For MacIntyre, the focus can remain on justifying the $14 million-plus contract extension he received more than a year ago just months after the alleged abhorrent off-field behavior of a valued and trusted assistant became public knowledge.
Don’t look now, but the Colorado State opener is less than six weeks away.