LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A California appeals court on Tuesday found that the NCAA disregarded the truth to reach a “predetermined conclusion” that former USC assistant football coach Todd McNair knew of Reggie Bush’s NCAA violations.
The ruling stemmed from a defamation suit filed by McNair against the NCAA and calls into question the sanctions imposed on the USC football program following the scandal.READ MORE: Southern California Real Estate Market Cools Off In Fall
The court’s ruling, reported by CBS Sports’ Jon Solomon, casts further doubt about whether the Trojans should have been hit with extensive penalties in 2010. McNair claimed he didn’t know about Bush receiving impermissible benefits — the biggest factor in USC being penalized — and has been fighting the NCAA in court for several years.
The three-judge panel from California’s Second District Court of Appeal threw out parts of McNair’s case, but allowed the defamation claim to remain. That means the case can proceed to trial under the spotlight of whether USC should have received a two-year postseason bowl ban and the loss of 30 scholarships over three seasons.
It’s the latest black eye for NCAA enforcement cases that reach the courtroom. Past cases involving Miami and Penn State have also shed light on questionable NCAA tactics or decisions.
“This evidence clearly indicates that the ensuing [infractions committee] report was worded in disregard of the truth to enable the [committee] to arrive at a predetermined conclusion that USC employee McNair was aware of the NCAA violations,” the judges wrote in their opinion.
“To summarize, McNair established a probability that he could show actual malice by clear and convincing evidence based on the [committee’s] doubts about McNair’s knowledge, along with its reckless disregard for the truth about his knowledge, and by allowing itself to be influenced by nonmembers to reach a needed conclusion.”
Bush surrendered his 2005 Heisman Trophy because of violations with a potential sports marketing agency. In its 2010 NCAA report penalizing USC, the NCAA said McNair “knew or should have known” that Bush had committed violations tied to Lloyd Lake, one of the potential sports marketers for Bush.READ MORE: 'If You Don't Get Vaccinated, Don't Visit': Mayor Of West Hollywood Calls For Proof Of Vaccination For Business Entry
One major reason USC was hit hard by the NCAA infractions committee was an “unethical conduct” finding against McNair. The NCAA cited a two-minute phone call between McNair and Lake in January 2006.
That call “appears to be the sole basis for the NCAA’s ethics-violation finding against McNair,”the judges wrote. “Yet, a jury could reasonably conclude that Lake’s interview [with NCAA enforcement officials] did not support the statement that McNair knew about the NCAA violations. Lake appeared to be confused when questioned about his relationship with McNair.”
According to court filings, Lake told the NCAA that McNair “knew about the money [Bush] took, he knew that [Bush] had an [agency] agreement.” But when pressed by NCAA interviewers, the judges wrote, “Lake made clear that this was Lake’s own assumption. Nowhere during Lake’s description of the two-minute call did Lake ever say that he informed McNair of, or that McNair claimed knowledge about, the agency agreement and improper benefits. Instead, Lake speculated that Bush told McNair, or that McNair knew from osmosis because ‘he was around a lot’ and ‘watched.’
During a pre-trial deposition, NCAA investigator Rich Johanningmeier acknowledged that the NCAA needed a finding against McNair in order to punish USC, the judges noted.
“McNair produced evidence that, while the (infractions committee) had difficulty reaching a conclusion about McNair, it violated its own procedures by considering facts outside the record without affording McNair an opportunity to explain, and by allowing nonvoting members to influence the deliberations,” the ruling said.
Two non-voting members of the NCAA infractions committee — Roscoe Howard and Rodney Uphoff — made disparaging statements about McNair against NCAA procedure.
“Howard shared with the (infractions committee) his seriously hostile feelings about McNair in an email that cited facts outside the record,” the ruling said. “He also expressed his opinions during deliberations. Uphoff encouraged (infractions committee liaison Shep) Cooper to do the same to achieve a consensus. Uphoff’s e-mail to Cooper revealed that the (infraction committee) members wanted more proof and so Uphoff was preparing a ‘long memo,’ giving rise to the strong inference that he was writing that memo for (infractions committee) consumption. Likewise, the e-mail suggest that the drafting of the (infractions committee) report commended before the (committee) had reached a consensus.”MORE NEWS: One Killed, Four Injured In El Monte Shooting
Howard and Uphoff later became voting members of the infractions committee. Both recently resigned from the infractions committee prior to the potential renewal of their terms, according to minutes from the NCAA Division I Board of Directors meeting in August. No reason was cited for their resignations.