By: Sid Salter
University of Southern Mississippi Professor Emeritus James Crockett, now an adjunct professor of accountancy at the University of Mississippi, perhaps enjoyed a bit of serendipity in bringing his latest book to market in the same year that the entire nation witnessed a Mississippi team win a legitimate NCAA national championship at the 2021 College World Series in Omaha.
Crockett has penned three fine books (all for the University Press of Mississippi) in past years, books that one might expect a gifted accountant with meticulous research skills would author. His broad topics? Public corruption in Mississippi.
In 2003, Crockett wrote “Operation Pretense: The FBI’s Sting on County Corruption in Mississippi” which focused on public corruption in the state’s county government system – the federal probe unveiled bribes and kickbacks on county purchases of mundane items like culverts and motor grader blades. The “Pretense” scandal propelled then-State Auditor Ray Mabus to political prominence, positioning him to win a term as governor.
The scandal further changed the atmosphere for county officials in terms of purchasing accountability and transparency in county record keeping and brought about a far-flung debate over the merits of the country unit system versus the “beat” or district form of governance.
In 2007, Crockett focused his skills on a related topic in a book called “Hands in The Till: Embezzlement of Public Monies in Mississippi.” The book focused on 37 public corruption cases involving Mississippi chancery clerks, circuit clerks, justice court clerks, municipal clerks, sheriffs, tax collectors, school and college administrators, and organizations that receive Mississippi public dollars.
The book was a response to a publication called the Corporate Crime Reporter which claimed that Mississippi was “the most crooked state in America.” Crockett set out to test that hypothesis with rather depressing results. It was, like his first book, an important reference book on the public corruption front.
In 2013, Crockett wrote one of several books related to the judicial bribery scandal that rocked Mississippi and drew national headlines. Crockett made an accountant’s forensic examination of the efforts of a group of talented, successful state attorneys to influence several state judges to rule in their favor in key cases.
The book examined the downfall of attorneys Paul Minor, Richard Scruggs, Joey Langston – all whose personal and professional lives were impacted as in Greek tragedy – and driven in great measure by the work of a bank examiner and the courage of a rural judge who refused to be bribed. “Power, Greed, Hubris: Judicial Bribery in Mississippi” explained the complex tale with an accountant’s dispassion and candor.
Now, Crockett is back with another book published by University Press of Mississippi and there’s not a corrupt public official in sight.
“Rulers of the SEC: Ole Miss and Mississippi State 1959 – 1966” has been a labor of love for Crockett. The book focused on the author’s realization that for a brief, shining time in the late 1950s and early 1960s. State and Ole Miss dominated the Southeastern Conference championships won in baseball, basketball and football from 1959 through 1966.
It’s one thing to claim athletic dominance in college sports, but it’s another thing to document that prowess in the manner worthy of an accountant with undergraduate and graduate degrees from Ole Miss and a doctorate from MSU. Perhaps the story is best told by Crockett in the book’s introduction:
“Over an eight-year period the SEC’s big three sports – basketball, baseball, and football – produced a total of 24 champions. During the calendar years 1959 – 1966 Mississippi universities combined to win 12 of the available 24 championships, exactly half. That left 12 championships for the other 10 members of the conference to divide among themselves,” Crockett wrote.
Whether you’re a Bulldog, Rebel, or Golden Eagle – or follow one of the state’s other fine public and private institutions of higher learning – Crockett’s new book celebrates a time when Mississippi universities found a way to compete successfully for championships with scant resources. Crockett tells the story of the “X’s and O’s” and also of more poignant stories of the “Jimmies and Joes.”
This book would be a great addition to the personal library of Mississippi’s discerning college sports fans. Look in better bookstores or visit www.upress.state.ms.us.