It started with 'NCAA Missteps on McNair'

Here's a look back at our original June 24, 2010, story that published on the problems with the NCAA's decision to find Todd McNair guilty of unethical conduct resulting in his lawsuit that continues to this day. We'll return to this theme of how we got here over the last 4 1/2 years.

With all the attention now on the Todd McNair lawsuit gaining so much traction against the NCAA in recent weeks, we thought we'd take some time here to refresh the history of's coverage from Day 1, which in our case was June 24, 2010.

We called it "NCAA Missteps on McNair" and it was a group effort with Bryan Fischer and Gerard Martinez chipping in for our team.

We'd talked to Todd although not for this story -- when he was still able to talk to us before the lawsuit -- and we'd also separately gotten hold a copy of the NCAA's Case Summary, the official document we were told we weren't supposed to have according to the NCAA.

That helped us a great deal figuring out what was going on in a case that absolutely made no sense the way the NCAA's Committee on Infractions came down on USC with the intent of destroying the football program.

But that's not where we were originally. We just wanted to tell the story as straightforward as we could. So here's the way we led the piece. Without hyperbole. But from the first words we wrote, we got it right. Here they are.

"In its December Response to the charges from the NCAA Committee on Infractions, USC noted a number of mistakes and factual errors in the evidence presented against assistant coach Todd McNair.

"Those errors were also detailed at the Committee's Feb. 18-20 hearing in Tempe, Ariz., according to a source familiar with the case but not authorized to speak publicly about it. reviewed a copy of the Case Summary detailing evidence in the NCAA Committee on Infractions Case No. M295 against McNair and it supports the USC claim of factual errors, misleading questions and uncorroborated evidence used by the organization's enforcement staff."

That's what we said then. And what we know now.

We noted that "the testimony in question involves would-be sports marketer Lloyd Lake and whether McNair knew or should have known of a scheme to provide impermissible benefits to former USC running back Reggie Bush and his family."

And it was clear from our read of the Case Summary that the NCAA didn't have it -- and the Case Summary that we weren't supposed to have proved it.

Asked to explain what exactly that document was designed to do, NCAA associate director of public relations Stacy Osburn said that it's "what the institution believes, what the individuals in the case believe and what the enforcement staff believes," in commenting about infractions cases in general.

But no NCAA staffer may talk about a specific case, Osburn told us, after the press conference conducted by the Committee chair on the report's release. She would later break that rule in a comment to ESPN trying to downplay the story as she earned a place in the case herself as it went forward on appeal.

"The Case Summary documented the allegations against McNair," we said. "Each had factual problems," we continued in what now looks like one of the great understatements of all time.

Then we documented those sloppy -- and worse -- mistakes for the first time anywhere in print starting with the enforcement staff's misstating of the 2:32 phone call in every way possible, from who made it to what year it occured.

It's here that the NCAA should have listened to former COI chairman Tom Yeager, then the commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association, who told us: "If this (mistake) did occur, then I couldn't imagine they would not be jumping out of their seats about it. If it's as clear as they're trying to say, then there isn't even a finding to be made against the client.

"The committee would have turned to the enforcement staff for an explanation," Yeager said. "If they're making a finding on a call that didn't even occur, that's strange credibility. I can't see all eight of those guys missing that."

As it turns out, thanks to the release of the emails, they didn't all miss it. And yet it didn't matter. They still hammered USC. Getting it right mattered not at all. Getting USC did.

Although Michael Buckner, a USC alum whose Florida law firm represented Alabama State in the only appeals case that has reduced an NCAA penalty under the new, much stricter standard adopted in January, 2008, was not surprised. "That's not unusual," Buckner said. "They do make mistakes."

But this was more than a "mistake," as we now know. The enforcement staff tied McNair to a number of other evidentiary findings it said it unearthed in its nearly four-year pursuit of USC that would connect the USC running backs coach to knowledge of violations. Yet again and again, the NCAA either didn't have the evidence, misstated it or just plain missed.

One example is the way they tried to tie McNair to Bush and Lake at Marshall Faulk's birthday party only to have the evidence show McNair wasn't in San Diego that day. Then there were the calls to Lake's cellphone number, given McNair by Bush when his phone had lost its charge on a night when Bush was hosting a USC recruit. Lake didn't even remember those calls.

And of course, there was the famous photo presented in an altered format that USC was never able to examine in its original format, showing Lake and partner Michael Michaels with McNair and his actor friend at a bar that same night. The NCAA said it proved McNair was lying. That he knew Lake. And that was it for McNair.

The Committee found that the USC assistant "knowingly provided false and misleading information . . . when questioned about his knowledge of Lloyd Lake." And yet, as we demonstrated time and again, the only false and misleading information here was provided by the Committee, although no one at the time knew of the extent of the improper influence of two nonvoting members, Rodney Uphoff and Roscoe Howard, and one staffer, Shep Cooper.

And for the NCAA revisionists who say this wasn't about McNair, the only connection to a USC staffer who could have possibly known of any improper benefits to the Bush family, McNair was forced to testify for more than eight hours over two days at the February hearings in Tempe. That's longer, we noted, than most entire COI hearings. The NCAA had to nail this to McNair, we realized, no matter what they may have later said in the final report.

We wrote that "In the Case Summary, McNair's credibility was continually questioned by the enforcement staff. USC, in its Response to the allegations, stated that the enforcement staff "accepted at face value the allegations of the primary accusers and summarily dismissed the explanations of the accused . . . charges corroborated by little or no testimony or documentation."

USC also noted Lake's convictions of drug trafficking, theft, illegal possession of firearms, violence and domestic abuse, we wrote, as well as of an FBI investigation that described Lake's involvement in a San Diego-based gang. Just the guy anyone would believe, right?

But, the NCAA said, Lake had "tape recordings that supported his testimony." But on the advice of legal counsel, however, the NCAA Infractions Report said that 'the enforcement staff did not present those tapes to the Committee,' " in a modern McCarthyism moment the Senator would have been proud of -- but anyone with a sense of decency would have run screaming from the hearing room. And as we now know, there weren't many like that on the COI panel.

They weren't looking for actual evidence, or fairness, they were looking to hang USC and hang the Trojans' program around Todd McNair's neck.

The enforcement staff, USC explained, needed McNair to make its case: "USC believes the Staff has pursued these weak institutional allegations in football because it recognizes that without a direct institutional link, the allegations surrounding student-athlete 1 (Reggie Bush) involve amateurism issues with no institutional violation. After 3 1/2 years of intensive public and media scrutiny, including repeated public questions as to why USC football has not been 'brought to justice' by the NCAA, the pressure to accuse USC of having had actual knowledge of and direct connection to the alleged impermissible benefits is very real. The truth is that USC and the assistant football coach had no knowledge of the alleged impermissible benefits to student-athlete 1 and his family."

But what about the Lake-McNair phone call, the NCAA's "smoking gun"?

A call that took "less time than it would take to order a pizza," McNair's attorney Scott Tompsett described it in his response according to the Infractions Report, the Committee determined that McNair learned about the scheme and then failed to report it to USC's compliance office. They then accused McNair of falsely signing a document saying he had no knowledge of any violations in order to avoid being implicated.

USC, in its Response to the Committee, also objected to what it described as "a flawed process" in which the NCAA denied USC any opportunity to take part in the questioning of Lake." And of course now we know why USC was denied that opportunity.

The good news is that the California courts have not denied McNair his opportunity to seek justice and get his good name -- and career back.

The only question we have now is whether USC will join the parade and hold the NCAA's feet to the fire here as well.

As we pointed out in our original story, USC did a good job defending itself in a kangaroo court where it had no chance. But now that it does have a chance, thanks to the McNair lawsuit, what does USC do now -- now that we know what we didn't know then about the NCAA's misconduct that we described in "NCAA Missteps on McNair."

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