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Penalty against ex-USC coach Todd McNair violated state law, judge says in tentative ruling

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has found the NCAA’s show-cause penalty against former USC running backs coach Todd McNair violated state law and declared the bylaws behind the penalty void because they’re an “unlawful restraint” on pursuing a lawful profession.

“McNair’s ability to practice his profession as a college football coach has been restricted, if not preempted, not only in Los Angeles and California, but in every state in the country,” Judge Frederick Shaller wrote in the eight-page tentative decision entered late last month.

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The ruling, if upheld, means a key part of the NCAA’s infractions process would not apply to California schools. It comes in the aftermath of a jury deciding in May that the NCAA did not defame McNair in connection with the Reggie Bush investigation.

Bush was an All-American running back for USC. The NCAA’s infractions committee found in June 2010 that McNair engaged in unethical conduct in connection with Bush receiving illicit benefits from sports marketers while he played for the Trojans. The committee punished McNair with a show-cause penalty and USC declined to renew his contract. McNair, who sued the NCAA in June 2011, argued the punishment and associated stigma made coaching another college or professional team all but impossible.

The committee also levied historic sanctions against the Trojans that included a two-year bowl ban, the loss of 30 scholarships and four years of probation.

McNair, now the offensive line coach at the Village Christian School in Sun Valley, hasn’t worked at the college or professional level since the show-cause penalty.

While McNair’s legal team declined to discuss the tentative ruling Tuesday, McNair told The Times last month the jury’s decision “threw me out of whack for a while.”

“Since the court’s ruling is tentative, it is premature to comment,” the NCAA said in a statement. “We look forward to the opportunity to provide our objections to the court per California trial rules.”

The quest to have the show-cause penalty declared invalid under state law was severed from the trial phase of McNair’s defamation suit and decided by Shaller based on briefs filed by both sides.

“The trial testimony and reasonable inferences drawn from such testimony,” the judge wrote, “established to a preponderance of evidence that the Show-Cause Order imposed as a penalty against McNair was, in his case, in essence equivalent to a college coaching career-terminating sanction since no NCAA member school, including USC, would likely risk the exposure to sanctions that would impact their athletic programs and lucrative media-related and athletic program income or status by even considering hiring or retaining McNair at any later date after sanctions expired because his reputation was tainted by the penalty.”

Shaller cited state law ensuring “every citizen shall retain the right to pursue any lawful employment and enterprise of their choice” and noted the show-cause penalty also restrained NCAA schools from pursuing their business interests by hiring McNair.

“A determination of the declaratory relief action will not only serve as a practical means of resolving the current controversy but will also serve to allow the NCAA and member schools to conform their conduct to the law and prevent future litigation,” Shaller wrote.

The NCAA tried to remove Shaller as the case’s judge in 2016, alleging in a court filing that the “public perceives potential judicial bias” because he graduated from USC. The organization cited years-old news stories, anonymous message board postings and comments below stories to support the argument, later rejected by California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal.

The parties have until Sept. 14 to file objections to Shaller’s tentative ruling. In a previous filing, McNair’s attorneys said they plan to seek a new trial on the defamation count after the declaratory relief is finalized.

1:37 p.m.: This story was updated with a statement from the NCAA.

This story was originally published at 12:25 p.m.

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