In one of the last remnants of the USC case, his former position coach, Todd McNair, is going to trial with the NCAA.
Reggie Bush last played college football on Jan. 4, 2006. More than 12 years after that and almost eight years after the NCAA came down on USC for compliance violations relating to Bush’s career, the fallout is still unfolding in California courts.
You’re familiar with the broad details of the Bush case.
In 2010, the NCAA found that Bush and his family had taken gifts from agents, including cash, a car, housing, and hotel stays. The NCAA wiped a bunch of USC wins from its record books, including the 2004 season’s Orange Bowl and 12 wins the next season. Bush vacated his Heisman Trophy. Pete Carroll left for the NFL in 2010.
The person hit hardest might have been USC running backs coach Todd McNair.
The NCAA’s Committee on Infractions ruled that McNair had known Bush was involved in compliance violations and that he misled enforcement staff during their investigation. The NCAA gave McNair a one-year show-cause penalty, which made him essentially unemployable as a college football coach. USC let McNair’s contract expire shortly after the NCAA ruling, and he hasn’t gotten another college coaching job since.
In 2011, McNair sued the NCAA for defamation. After a failed NCAA attempt to get the case thrown out of California court and some fighting over the publicizing of case documents, it’s going to trial on April 18. McNair and four NCAA staffers are expected to testify.
McNair alleges, first and foremost, that the NCAA got it wrong.
The organization said he’d violated its ethical-conduct rules. A key witness in that finding was Lloyd Lake, one of the sports marketing agents at the center of the case. McNair says the NCAA altered testimony by Lake in a way that implicated McNair.
McNair alleges the NCAA put on a sham process and ruined his reputation and career. He says non-voting members of the infractions committee violated NCAA protocol by trying to influence the deliberations of voting members. He alleges committee members went outside the official case record, falsely determining based on internet searches that McNair had a dogfighting conviction on his record, then sharing that information with the committee.
McNair says the NCAA acted with malice to bring him down. That point’s potentially important, because if a judge determines McNair was a public figure in his job as a USC assistant, he can’t prove defamation unless he also proves it was deliberate. McNair’s lawyers say he wasn’t a public figure in the first place, but that the NCAA was still malicious.
The full lawsuit McNair filed against the NCAA in June 2011, about a year after the NCAA decision and his exit from USC, is here.
If McNair wins, that will be catnip for people who thought the NCAA was out of control when it prosecuted USC.
McNair no longer works at USC, and his success or failure in this case won’t affect the Trojans’ old records or get Bush his Heisman back. Viewed through another lens, a victory for McNair might look bad for USC, because it would make it harder to lay blame on any one person for the devastation the NCAA wreaked on it.
That won’t be at the top of anyone’s mind, though. The NCAA leveled USC after Bush’s career ended, and legal success for McNair would hurt the NCAA.
Even if everything the NCAA says about Bush, McNair, and USC is true, their crimes amounted to little more than participating in capitalism.
It’s almost always silly when the NCAA launches a big investigation to determine who knew what about some teenager getting compensated for rare athletic skills.
It’s extra silly when those events are still a point of legal contention more than a decade after they allegedly happened.
But to McNair, this isn’t silly. He lost a lucrative career because of the Bush case, and he says the NCAA helped by breaking the law. His case might be an avatar for USC gripes with the NCAA, but for now, it’s about one man’s dealings with a system.