The California Supreme Court ruled against the NCAA, declining to review the 2nd District Court of Appeal’s December decision allowing former USC football assistant coach Todd McNair’s lawsuit against the NCAA to proceed. McNair is likely to win at least a part of his lawsuit, which in its course will reveal a trove embarrassing NCAA documents and emails, which are currently under seal.
Back in 2010, an NCAA investigation into Reggie Bush found that he had received improper benefits while attending USC, leading Bush to return his Heisman Trophy and for the school to disassociate itself with him completely. Because the NCAA concluded that McNair had known about the improper benefits, they banned him from working for any NCAA school for a year, and levied harsh penalties on USC. McNair appealed the decision and lost.
He then sued the NCAA for libel, slander, and breach of contract, and the NCAA quickly moved to have the lawsuit tossed. But in 2012 a Los Angeles Superior Court judge denied the NCAA’s petition to have the case dismissed, calling the NCAA’s investigation “malicious” and saying McNair stood a good chance of winning his case:
The NCAA’s report on ethical breaches by Todd McNair was flawed, and the former coach has shown a probability he can win his defamation claims, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller said.
The NCAA had sought to have the case dismissed, but Shaller disagreed. He said after reviewing sealed documents in the McNair inquiry, which was tied to a gift scandal involving Heisman Trophy-winner Reggie Bush, he was convinced that the actions of NCAA investigators were “over the top.”
His 10-page ruling states emails between an investigative committee member, an NCAA worker and a person who works in the agency’s appeals division “tend to show ill will or hatred” toward McNair.
The NCAA then appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which ruled in February 2015 that the case could continue, adding in December 2015 that McNair had, “demonstrated a probability of prevailing on the merits of his defamation case,” though his breach of contract argument was weaker. The opinion allowing the case to continue blasted the NCAA’s shamockery of an “investigation”:
“McNair made a sufficiently convincing showing that the NCAA recklessly disregarded the truth,” Justice Richard D. Aldrich wrote in the opinion, “when the COI deliberately decided not to correct the investigation’s errors or to acquire more information about what McNair knew concerning the rules violations, even after McNair notified the Appeals Committee of the errors.”
The opinion added that “without a finding against McNair, no penalties could have been instituted against USC for Bush’s receipt of improper benefits.”
Which brings us to today, when a third successive court shot down the NCAA’s attempt to dismiss McNair’s case. Absent an unlikely legal Hail Mary, McNair’s case will proceed later this year. Given that a likely McNair victory will prove that the NCAA had no justification for stripping scholarships from USC and giving them a two-year bowl ban—and will reveal highly embarrassing documents, including the full text of an email that calls McNair a“lying, morally bankrupt criminal”—a settlement seems in the offing.