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Contrast of penalties against USC is focus of testimony in Todd McNair's defamation lawsuit against NCAA

Ten minutes remained in Thursday's session of former USC assistant football coach Todd McNair's defamation trial against the NCAA when Bruce Broillet glanced at the clock on the wall of the fifth-floor room in the Stanley Mosk Courthouse.

The veteran trial attorney representing McNair promised Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller the questions were almost done.

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"Spoiler alert," Broillet quipped.

In those final minutes, the attorney highlighted the gaping difference between the NCAA infractions committee's proposed sanctions against USC in early 2010 before it made a finding against McNair and the program-altering sanctions imposed afterward.

The 5-foot-2 Broillet pointed at a big screen television with a pen as the witness, Missouri law professor Rodney Uphoff, who served as a nonvoting member of the committee, watched.

Before finding McNair guilty of unethical conduct: a one-year postseason ban and the loss of six scholarships for the football program. After the finding: a two-year postseason ban and the loss of 30 scholarships.

"Well, it was after, deciding, making all the findings and evaluating all the penalties it was in time after the decision with McNair," Uphoff said, "but you're suggesting a connection that I don't think is there."

Broillet repeated the difference in sanctions, occasionally raising his voice for emphasis.

"But it had nothing to do with Todd McNair or the other factors you just mentioned," Uphoff said.

That ended the session. Left unsaid was what, exactly, changed.

The exchange capped the third day of testimony dominated by Uphoff. The professor acknowledged under intense questioning he tried to influence the voting members of the committee "to reach the right decision" in the USC case.

That effort included a seven-page memo in February 2010 lambasting USC. It was eventually distributed to other committee members when they had reached tentative decision on USC's penalties but couldn't come to a consensus on McNair.

"They need a wake-up call that doing things the wrong way will have serious consequences," Uphoff wrote of USC.

The memo also blasted the school's hiring Lane Kiffin to replace Pete Carroll as head coach.

Asked to explain the statement, Uphoff testified he had seen in newspapers that Kiffin "seemed to have had a checkered past."

In an email that month to Roscoe Howard, another nonvoting member, Uphoff attached a draft of the memo and wrote, "I am very bothered about this case …" Later that day, Uphoff sent another email to Howard: "We need to regain the momentum."

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After a March 2010 conference call to try to reach a decision, Howard congratulated Uphoff in an email.

"You really know how to prime the pump, my man," Howard wrote. "Nice job. I feel like I've been watching the master at work with you and this committee. McNair had no vocal supporters last night, so that was good ..."

Uphoff responded the next day: "As the latest email from [committee member] Eleanor [Myers] shows, the battle isn't over."

On the stand, Uphoff said of the committee's debate: "These were serious people who wanted to make the right decision and they spent a lot of time trying to make sure they got it right."

Uphoff agreed the disputed phone call between would-be sports agent Lloyd Lake and McNair in January 2006 served as the "linchpin" of the finding against McNair.

During an aside, Uphoff mentioned that Paul Dee, the infractions committee chairman, removed Lake's probation report from the record the committee could consider in the USC case. According to Uphoff, Dee believed the report had been obtained illegally.

"Does that probation report contain things that point to us disbelieving Lake?" Broillet asked.

"No," Uphoff said. "It's merely confirming a felony conviction of some sort."

The questions continue Friday.

Twitter: @nathanfenno

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