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Internal NCAA discussions on USC case revealed in McNair documents

Previously sealed documents regarding the NCAA's investigation of USC and former assistant coach Todd McNair reveal the association's attitude toward the school.

A series of recently unsealed documents related to the NCAA's investigation of the USC athletic program, including numerous emails between members of the Committee on Infractions, offer a damning look inside the organization’s arbitrary decision-making process.

The NCAA publicly filed nearly 500 pages of documents in court Tuesday as part of a defamation suit brought by former USC assistant football coach Todd McNair, according to a report from Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times. The NCAA had fought vigorously to keep the documents away from the public eye.

McNair, who worked under former Trojans coach Pete Carroll from 2004 to ‘09, was a central figure in an NCAA investigation into USC that took more than four years. The school was sanctioned in June 2010 for “lack of institutional control” surrounding violations pertaining to former running back Reggie Bush and his family. Former basketball star O.J. Mayo was also involved in the violations.

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The NCAA gave McNair a show-cause penalty for his role in the misconduct that prohibited him from contacting recruits for a year. USC did not renew McNair’s contract when it expired on June 30, 2010, and he has not coached since.

The NCAA attempted to keep the documents sealed, arguing that maintaining confidentiality was critical to future investigations. But on Feb. 6, a 2nd District Court of Appeal in California rejected the argument.

Now public, the documents shed light on the NCAA’s decision-making process behind the USC case.

Among the highlights from the filing:

• Rodney Uphoff, a University of Missouri professor serving as a non-voting member on the NCAA infractions committee, compared the evidence against McNair to that of the Oklahoma City bombing.

“But there is no question that the evidence in this case is much stronger than against (convicted accomplice Terry) Nichols in the OKC case,” wrote Uphoff in an undated memo. Uphoff was appointed to represent Nichols in the bombing case.

• McNair’s lawyer’s brief quotes Shepard Cooper, the director of the Committee on Infractions, as saying he believes “McNair shouldn’t be coaching at any level….He’s a lying, morally bankrupt criminal, in my view.”

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•​ Uphoff criticized USC’s hiring of Lane Kiffin in 2010 and used the example of Miami under athletic director Paul Dee. “Paul Dee was brought in at Miami to clean up a program with serious problems,” Uphoff wrote. “USC has responded to its problems by bringing in Lane Kiffin. They need a wake-up call that doing things the wrong way will have serious consequences.”

Uphoff said USC “turned a blind eye to the problem and largely just hoped that nothing bad would happen. A failure to sanction USC both in basketball and football rewards USC for swimming with sharks.”

• Temple University law professor Eleanor Myers, then a member of the infractions committee, expressed concern with hitting USC with a “lack of institutional control” in a March 2010 email. “Here is the issue that I am currently struggling with…” Myers wrote. “Assuming that McNair failed to monitor and/or ignored a number of indications that Bush was receiving improper benefits, is that a base for an unethical conduct finding or a lack of institutional control finding on behalf of USC? His lawyer makes a strong case that as an assistant coach, he cannot cause the institution to be charged with a lack of institutional control.”

• Other members of the infractions committee wrote that USC’s wrongdoing appeared to reach beyond McNair. “The one ‘take-away’ I had from watching the proceedings is that USC, and especially their athletic director, kept themselves in a state of ‘plausible deniability.’ That is they do not try to educate themselves or engage to curb some of this activity,” wrote Roscoe Howard, a former member of the NCAA infractions committee, in a March 2010 email.

Howard continued: “McNair should have all inferences negatively inferred against him,” Roscoe Howard. “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.”