Each person entering Room 500 in the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday passed 20 cardboard boxes stuffed with documents and stacked chest-high against the wall. A half-dozen similar boxes were stashed in a corner nearby.
Despite the reams of deposition transcripts, emails and other evidence amassed in former USC assistant football coach Todd McNair's defamation lawsuit against the NCAA, the case always returns to a brief phone call in January 2006.
That call between McNair and would-be sports agent Lloyd Lake consumed the second day of testimony in Los Angeles County Superior Court, raised questions about the NCAA's infractions process and could shape the rest of the trial.
McNair sued the NCAA in 2011 in the aftermath of the extra benefits scandal centered on former USC running back Reggie Bush. The NCAA leveled historic penalties against the Trojans, including stripping 30 scholarships, banning the school from bowl games for two seasons and determining that McNair, Bush's position coach, engaged in unethical conduct. McNair has not coached since.
The lone witness, former NCAA investigator Angie Cretors, agreed the infractions report used to sanction McNair and USC in the extra benefits case included "factually incorrect" information about the call.
"The statement in the Committee on Infractions report that Lake said that he called McNair and what he told McNair on the call was factually inaccurate, correct?" Bruce Broillet, one of McNair's attorneys, said.
"Yes, it was paraphrased," responded Cretors, one of two lead investigators in the case.
"It was factually inaccurate, correct?" Broillet asked.
"Yes," Cretors said.
The infractions report claimed Lake told NCAA investigators he called McNair. But Lake never said that in his interview with Cretors and another investigator, Rich Johanningmeier, in November 2007. Instead, Johanningmeier told Lake that McNair called. Lake, recently released from prison at the time, never disagreed.
McNair, for his part, always insisted he had no recollection of the call and didn't know Lake.
Broillet peppered Cretors with questions about the Lake interview during one exchange.
Did they ask where Lake was when the call was made? No. Did they ask if he was intoxicated? No. On drugs? No. Whether he was at a loud club? No. Where McNair was? No. The quality of the phone connection? No.
Broillet quickly pivoted to an excerpt of the notes from the NCAA's interview with Bush: "[He] reported that Lake was a small-time drug dealer with no money. Bush explained that Lake was his family's 'ugly duckling' who Lake's parents and sister were not fond of."
The call presented more problems.
The infractions report pointed out that McNair phoned Bush about 12 hours after the call with Lake. Broillet asked Cretors if investigators concluded the second call discussed Lake without any evidence beyond it occurring the same day as the first call.
"Potentially," Cretors said.
Broillet grilled Cretors about the enforcement staff's traditional role in fact-checking each of the infractions report. She said she didn't check the information about McNair against what Lake said in his interview.
"Yes, we should have reviewed it for accuracy," said Cretors, who joined the NCAA enforcement staff in the early 2000s without previous investigative experience after compiling a report on gambling for the organization as a contract worker and handling payroll as a temp for another company.
Jurors' heads swiveled back and forth with each question — one juror was dismissed Tuesday after appearing to sleep during part of the proceedings — and they appeared engaged in the back and forth.
The NCAA's lead attorney, Kosta Stojilkovic, dismissed the conflicting information as "two sentences" in a 67-page report.
After Stojilkovic played three minutes of Lake's interview, Cretors testified it didn't make any difference to her who initiated the call. The content of the conversation mattered. She believed Lake's account, citing his providing documents, photos and other material to support allegations.
Cretors, answering most questions in monotone, said she did not find McNair credible then and hasn't changed her mind today. The former coach listened from the front row.
Stojilkovic attacked McNair's credibility, mentioning his statement to investigators that he had "next to none" contact with Bush outside of games or practices. The attorney then counted 599 phone calls from McNair to Bush in 2005 and 2006. Cretors said she found the number of calls highly unusual.
The former investigator will continue testifying Thursday, followed by infractions committee member Rodney Uphoff.
The boxes of documents will still be there.