On June 10, 2010, the NCAA levied penalties on the University of Southern California football team that were among the harshest since Southern Methodist University was given the "death penalty" in 1987. A two-year postseason ban. A reduction of ten total scholarships (plus ten initial scholarships) per year for three years (30 total scholarships and 30 initial scholarships). A one-year show cause order banning assistant coach Todd McNair from recruiting (effectively a ban from coaching given the importance of recruiting to top programs). Additional fines, penalties, and four years of probation.
So what, then, about this case could lead ESPN's Ted Miller to conclude:
Yes, the NCAA railroaded McNair and USC. That's been the position of just about every neutral observer who is knowledgable about the case. Some folks in the comment section below will argue differently. And what they will do is type things that are ignorant, irrelevant or untrue.
And what could lead the judge presiding over McNair's defamation lawsuit against the NCAA to make this preliminary finding:
McNair has met this standard of showing malice [by the NCAA.] In addition to the evidence cited by Plaintiff showing reckless disregard for the truth, Plaintiff proffers [internal NCAA emails] that tend to show ill will or hatred.
This site explores the numerous deficiencies, contradictions, and errors in the NCAA's findings and penalties, drawing on over 500 pages of case material. This site is divided into four major areas.
The McNair Allegations section focuses on the findings made by the NCAA against former USC assistant coach Todd McNair, who the NCAA says learned at some point that wannabe sports marketer Lloyd Lake had provided impermissible benefits to Bush in an effort to secure Bush as a client when the star runningback turned pro.
The NCAA ultimately charged McNair with unethical conduct for allegedly providing false or misleading testimony about a phone call, but the interview transcript reveals that the NCAA never actually asked McNair about the phone call in question because the NCAA investigator questioning McNair kept misidentifying the call as occurring in January 2005 instead of January 2006. But rather than go back and reinterview McNair, the NCAA simply went ahead and charged McNair with lying about his knowledge of the January 2006 call.
The NCAA also ignored glaring flaws and contradictions in the story of its star witness, Lake. Lake told the NCAA he was first introduced to McNair in March 2005 in a San Diego hotel room he had booked for Bush, but he told his then-girlfriend that he first met McNair months later in October 2005. Cell phone records also refute Lake's story, placing McNair in the Los Angeles area at the time of the supposed San Diego hotel room meeting. Lake's girlfriend and sister also contradict his story of talking to McNair at Marshall Faulk's birthday bash.
McNair ultimately sued the NCAA. The pending lawsuit has revealed a number of internal NCAA emails that a judge found shows "ill will or hatred" towards McNair.
The USC Penalties section addresses the irreconcilable disparity between the severity of sanctions imposed against USC and those imposed in other cases involving far greater violations, and the NCAA's efforts to immunize that disconnect from appellate review by disavowing the use of case precedent to prove abuse of discretion.
One such case precedent is the 1995 Miami case, which involved ten years of infractions that included perhaps the largest centralized Pell Grant fraud ever, a pay-for-performance pool long before the Saints' Bountygate, and more than $600,000 in impermissible benefits and excessive aid to more than a hundred athletes. Despite this, Miami received a shorter postseason ban, a lesser scholarship penalty, and, unlike USC, did not pay a fine or vacate any wins.
On appeal, USC pointed to the Miami case along with several others to show that the penalties levied against USC far exceed the penalties handed out for much more serious violations. Conveniently, a month before denying USC's appeal, the NCAA published a task force report instructing that prior case precedent was not binding and that appellate review was "limited." This position drew criticism from, among others, Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples:
No two robberies are the same. No two Ponzi schemes are the same. No two DUI cases are the same. Yet every day, judges in real courts weigh precedents and try to find the most similar cases so they don't issue a sentence out of step with the sentences handed to those who committed similar crimes. Is it too much to ask that the NCAA give its member institutions the same kind of justice?
The Procedural Faults section covers several prejudicial and unfair (and arguably illegal) missteps by the NCAA during the course of the investigation and beyond. The investigation was procedurally unfair to USC and McNair because the NCAA enforcement staff excluded USC from the interviews of key witnesses, including Lloyd Lake and his family. USC was thus unable to question Lake and other witnesses about the inconsistencies that appeared even from their answers to friendly questioning by the NCAA. Of course, the NCAA assured Congress that the accused have the right to question witnesses. The NCAA's actions in this regard may have violated California law, which requires even private associations to provide fair process to its members.
Things didn't get any better when USC appeared at the Committee on Infractions ("COI") hearing. NCAA bylaw 32.1.3 is supposed to protect schools from facing COI members who may be prejudiced or biased. It directs:
"Any member of the Committee on Infractions or the Infractions Appeals Committee shall neither appear at the hearing or oral argument nor participate on the committee when the member . . . has a personal, professional or institutional affiliation that reasonably would result in the appearance of prejudice."
Despite this rule, one of the eight COI members who sat in judgment of USC was an administrator at USC's chief rival. COI member Missy Conboy played basketball at Notre Dame and has worked in Notre Dame's athletics administration for more than 25 years, including a brief stint as interim athletic director in 2008. When Conboy sat for the hearing, USC had beaten Notre Dame eight straight years. Since the sanctions, Notre Dame won two of three in the series.
Potential sanctions against USC weighed heavily on recruit Seantrel Henderson, the nation's number one overall recruit. The 6'8", 338lb left tackle chose USC over Miami in February 2010, but admitted that his choice might change if USC were heavily sanctioned. After the sanctions came down four months later, Henderson decommitted and went to play for Miami. The chair of the COI, Paul Dee, was Miami's athletic director for 15 years (he was AD at the time of the 1995 Miami case mentioned above).
The NCAA also admitted that the COI failed to read all of the written documents submitted by USC and McNair. Even after the hearing, the NCAA COI had impermissible ex parte communications with the enforcement staff outside the presence of USC and McNair.
Finally, two of the NCAA enforcement staff members central to the USC investigation also featured prominently in the NCAA report on wrongdoings in the Miami investigation.
Where to Go From Here
You can take in this site in any order you want, or you can follow the below roadmap.
- NCAA Excludes USC From Key Interviews
- Josephine Potuto Misleads Congress, Then Wags Finger at USC
- Paul Dee - The Fox in Charge of the Henhouse
- Missy Conboy - Aspiring Future Notre Dame Athletic Director
- Marshall Faulk Birthday Party
- Percy Harvin Official Visit
- That January 8 Call
- Don't Forget Maiesha Jones
- McNair v. NCAA Lawsuit - Case Status and NCAA Internal Emails