NCAA releases documents in USC-McNair case, many with negative tone

Former USC Trojans running back coach Todd McNair during a practice session in 2009.
(Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times)

Members of the NCAA infractions committee that handed USC some of the most severe penalties in college sports history compared the evidence in the scandal to the Oklahoma City bombing, mocked the university’s response to the matter and derided the hiring of Lane Kiffin.

The responses are among almost 500 pages of previously sealed emails, interview transcripts and other documents the NCAA filed in court Tuesday in former USC running backs coach Todd McNair’s long-standing defamation lawsuit against the organization.

“McNair should have all inferences negatively inferred against him,” Roscoe Howard, a former U.S. attorney and nonvoting member of the committee, wrote in a March 2010 email. “Credibility determinations are for this committee and this committee alone. As with all tribunals or fact finders, we need not say why we disbelieve him, we need only let the public, or whomever, know that we disbelieve him.”

For years, the NCAA fought to seal the documents, claiming that not doing so would hinder future investigations by the organization. But California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the attempt in a sharply worded opinion in February by a three-justice panel.



Todd McNair: A sentence in the March 24 story was inadvertently missing the word not. The correct sentence now reads: For years, the NCAA fought to seal the documents, claiming that not doing so would hinder future investigations by the organization.

The Los Angeles Times and New York Times had previously asked the court to not seal the documents.

Per the court’s order, the NCAA chose what documents to publicly refile. About 200 pages that had been sealed were left out of Tuesday’s filing. The omissions include some of the committee’s most inflammatory emails that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller wrote in 2012 “tend to show ill will or hatred.”

One of those emails, from infractions committee liaison Shep Cooper, excerpted in court documents but not included in Tuesday’s filing, called McNair “a lying, morally bankrupt criminal … and a hypocrite of the highest order.”

The documents filed by the NCAA, though, opened a window into the contentious proceedings that unfolded during an investigation that took more than four years, USC’s hearing before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions and USC and McNair’s infractions appeals hearings.

USC was sanctioned in June 2010 for “lack of institutional control” for violations that centered on former football star Reggie Bush and his family, and former basketball star O.J. Mayo.

The NCAA determined McNair, who worked at USC under former coach Pete Carroll from 2004 to 2009, “knew or should have known” that Bush had dealings with two sports marketers from the San Diego area, Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels.

The NCAA also determined McNair had engaged in unethical conduct and sanctioned him with a “show-cause” order, barring him from contact with recruits for one year while working for USC or any other NCAA-member institution. The order makes a coach essentially unemployable.

One of McNair’s attorneys said in a statement after that ruling that the infractions committee “mischaracterized and manipulated key testimony.” McNair was not retained by Kiffin when his contract expired in 2010. The NCAA denied McNair’s appeal in April 2011 and McNair sued the NCAA for unspecified damages two months later, citing irreparable damage to his career.

He has not worked as a college or pro coach since he was not retained by USC.

Another nonvoting member of the 10-person infractions committee, Rodney Uphoff, lambasted USC in an undated memo distributed to the group. That included an extended passage touting the strength of the committee’s evidence in comparison to that used in the trial of Terry Nichols, convicted of participating in the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.

“But there is no question that the evidence in this case is much stronger than against Nichols in the OKC case,” wrote Uphoff, a University of Missouri professor who was appointed to represent Nichols.

In the same memo, Uphoff also criticized USC’s hiring of Kiffin as head coach in 2010 as evidence the school didn’t take the Bush scandal seriously.

Uphoff made reference to Paul Dee, a longtime University of Miami athletic director who was then chairman of the NCAA’s infractions committee for USC’s case.

“Paul Dee was brought in at Miami to clean up a program with serious problems. USC has responded to its problems by bringing in Lane Kiffin,” Uphoff wrote. “They need a wake-up call that doing things the wrong way will have serious consequences.”

A year after the NCAA handed down sanctions against USC in 2010 — when Dee famously said “high-profile players demand high-profile compliance” — Miami came under investigation for infractions involving multiple players and booster Nevin Shapiro, many of which occurred during Dee’s tenure.

Howard took a similar position in a March 2010 email to the infractions committee.

“Lack of institutional control … (and do we add the hiring of Lane Kiffin?), is a very easy call for me,” Howard wrote.

The same month, infractions committee member Eleanor Myers expressed uneasiness about the group’s deliberations via email.

“I am concerned about confidentiality because I do not know California open records law and because several of us use our institutional email accounts at public institutions,” she wrote.

In the same email thread, infractions committee member Britton Banowsky seemed befuddled by the case against McNair.

“It is challenging for me to make the finding when there is no allegation that he personally was involved in any rules violations, or even had specific knowledge of any,” Banowsky wrote.

Myers replied she wasn’t comfortable with accusing McNair of lying to the infractions committee.

“As Britton says, on this record it is hard to find that he was ‘involved’ in anything,” she wrote.

Days earlier, Howard had sent a 41/2-page email to the group assailing USC, calling the university’s approach to the case “troubling” and “insulting.”

Uphoff, as well, wanted to make an example of Bush.

“But … it is inconceivable to me that an innocent person in Bush’s situation with all that he has at stake, wouldn’t come forward with the documents to prove his innocence,” Uphoff wrote. “Accordingly, we should hold him accountable. … Given the limited powers of the NCAA enforcement staff we emasculate them if we allow ex-athletes to refuse to cooperate and suffer no adverse inference from a failure to supply information under these circumstances.”

Uphoff also argued against upholding “too high of a burden of proof” and defended the “inconsistencies re dates and details about events that spanned over 15 months” by marketer Lake.

The NCAA and Todd McNair’s attorney didn’t return requests for comment. A USC spokesperson said the university hadn’t seen the documents.

Plenty of publicly available material filled Tuesday’s filing, including 10 pages of the Division I manual, numerous news articles about the case and an NCAA news release from April 2011 announcing the penalties against McNair had been upheld.

All had been previously sealed.

A case management conference in McNair’s defamation lawsuit, filed in 2011, is scheduled for next month.

Follow Nathan Fenno on Twitter @nathanfenno

Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.