After three days of deliberation, the jury in Todd McNair’s defamation lawsuit against the NCAA ruled in favor of college sports’ governing body. The jury reportedly sided with the NCAA 9-3, deciding it did not make false statements about McNair.
The decision brings a close to a contested seven-year legal battle between the former USC assistant football coach and the NCAA. Last week, the judge nearly declared a mistrial when the jury was stuck at an 8-4 count (nine votes were needed for any sort of conclusive action) and a juror asked, and was allowed, to be dismissed. According to USCFootball.com, the jury foreman said the group felt moved to act against the NCAA for its sloppy investigation, but ultimately concluded that the burden of proof was too high for the defamation charge McNair was pursuing:
I don’t think the NCAA should come away thinking that they did something right.. We wanted to do something. We wanted to do something right.
McNair was among the casualties of the NCAA’s takedown of USC and Reggie Bush; the NCAA’s suggested punishment amounted to cutting a half-dozen scholarships and a one-season bowl ban. After the NCAA Committee on Infractions decided to bring an unethical-conduct charge against McNair, USC’s football scholarships were slashed by 30 in 2010 and the team was forced to sit out the next two postseasons.
McNair, whose contract was not renewed when it ran out in 2010, appealed the unethical-conduct charge in 2011, but the NCAA ruled against him. He sued the NCAA in 2011 for libel, slander, and breach of contract, positing in his initial legal action that the NCAA’s actions in the USC case had wrongfully harmed his reputation, and thus his livelihood.
McNair’s case was supposed to be the vengeance Trojans fans have long sought after being railroaded by the NCAA in its investigation of Bush’s recruitment and any payments or gifts that were included in that process. Unfortunately for them, and for anyone who likes seeing the NCAA eat crow for wasting time and money on pointless investigations, this case didn’t conclude so neatly.
In 2012, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller smacked down the NCAA’s attempt to have the case dismissed, ruling that the NCAA was “malicious” in its investigation of McNair, and that three individuals affiliated with the NCAA’s investigation exchanged emails that “tend to show ill will or hatred” toward him. After that, the 2nd District Court of Appeal in 2015 and the California Supreme Court in 2016 gave the NCAA the same answer, telling the group that it would have to face its day in court or settle.
The NCAA rode out the jury trial, one that revealed the missteps of its investigators and seemed to expose those surrounding the Committee on Infractions as particularly bloodthirsty over the USC case. Still, the NCAA prevailed, according to an L.A. Times report of the foreman’s remarks, because McNair’s legal teams dropped the breach of contract and negligence claims prior to closing arguments. This left McNair’s lawyers seeking $27 million in damages for the defamation claims, and the jury did not find that his legal team was able to prove the NCAA deliberately went after him.
Since being booted from the college coaching industry—he has not been employed as a football coach since USC—McNair said he’s struggled with alcoholism and depression. After the trial, two of the jurors who voted in his favor hugged and consoled him and his wife; one was overheard saying, “They got it wrong.”