There have been, by our count according to the Case Summary attached below, 130 separate filings, conditional filings, petitions, reassignments, disqualifications, memoranda, notices, orders, protective orders, conferences, hearings, statements, answers, applications, replies, remittiturs, objections, stipulations, rulings, responses, motions, affidavits, peremptory challenges, continuances, ex parte applications, corrections, declarations, transfers, conditional filings, clarifications, proofs of service, documents filed under seal, re-sealings of documents, briefings, complaints, denials, discharges, recusal requests and vacations in the defamation lawsuit of former USC coach Todd McNair against the NCAA that was filed June 3, 2011.
There have been, again by our count, 11 different presiding judges for one phase of this lawsuit or another before its recent return to the court of LA Superior Judge Frederick Shaller.
For those of us who have been there every step of the way, in fact were there before Todd McNair was forced to head down this path, before the NCAA's now-infamous ruling in the USC case that goes back to June 10, 2010, and the immediate four years before that when the NCAA kept its pursuit of USC open only to get it oh so wrong, it's still almost too much to comprehend how we got here. And how finally, a trial date has been set.
April 18, 2018, cannot come soon enough.
And yet, there is so much to be done before then. But then there's always been so much to do here as we know from first-hand knowledge. Which gets us to our plan today -- to tell you how this went down with our up-close-and-personal account.
It's been just a little more than seven years officially for us -- 11 years all together. The very first column we wrote for USCFootball.com before the NCAA's USC judgment came down, we said that in the four years USC had been pursued by the NCAA's Keystone Kops investigators, USC should have figured out a way to make this go away. That was then.
Now all we can say for sure is that USC could have made it harder for the NCAA to do what it had set out to do in taking USC football down as a threat to the powers-that-be in the SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten who really didn't want to have to deal with Pete Carroll's Trojans after that 55-19 BCS title romp over Oklahoma.
Sure there were violations. But had USC gone along even a little bit with an NCAA attempting to take it down no matter the evidence, how would that have worked out? The NCAA wasn't going to take "Yes" for an answer. They wanted to kneecap USC for a decade.
And the basketball issues had been dealt with, fairly or unfairly with a USC basketball program thrown under the bus by USC. And the women's tennis player's calls home on an athletic department credit card that were used to bolster a Lack of Institutional Control charge, well no one could have guessed the NCAA would be that desperate and embarrassingly stupid.
This was about football. Those three Heisman Trophies in four years at a time when Alabama had yet to win its first, were the final straw, we've always thought. They knew -- and you can all pencil the names of who "they" were -- the programs who thought college football should belong to them knew how much cheating they would have had to do to accomplish what the USC program was making look easy. So of course, USC must be doing that too.
It's called projection. And it was a justification for the longest investigation in NCAA history. There had to be something there. How else could USC be doing that? So the NCAA looked and looked, turned over every rock, came up with every theory of the case, and what did they have? Very little.
NCAA legal expert Michael Buckner said they came up with maybe enough evidence for a two-scholarship penalty for unknowingly playing an ineligible player. That was it.
USC's actual defense of the case, even with a first-time legal team, was strong and, as we later discovered when we got full access to it as well as the NCAA's evidence, one that should have tempered even the Committee on Infractions panel of hanging judges. No one knew for certain then of the outside-the-bylaws impermissible interference from staffers that the NCAA kept secret until discovery in the NCAA's attempt to dismiss the McNair lawsuit revealed it.
And then came decision day when we had to sit through COI chair Paul Dee's hour-long attempt to defend his group's work in a press conference after the decision. He was loud, lazy, unprepared, clearly didn't know the case, kept relating it to his own embarrassing lack of oversight as athletic director at Miami for much more extensive, much more serious violations that he wanted to world to know hadn't drawn as serious a penalty as USC had.
Oh, and high-profile players needed high-profile surveillance, Dee said in a ruling he just made up while making it sound like it was settled NCAA law. USC should have hired PI's, Dee seemed to be saying, and sent them to San Diego.
Reggie Bush was so famous, USC should have put a tail on him, Dee seemed to be advising USC's monitoring of its 2005 Heisman winner, not realizing that going into that season, Reggie was only the second-most famous player in USC's backfield after 2004 Heisman winner Matt Leinart. But one more thing to blame USC for.
Which seemed to be Dee's motivation in a performance so awful the NCAA decided that from then on, the COI chair would mail it in when it came to press conferences -- preferably from a location somewhere outside the country.
But despite our own revulsion at what we were hearing, and the lack of fact-based rationale or precedent for what the NCAA had done, we were surprised to see how many, even in Southern California, seemed to accept what the NCAA was trying to peddle. Wow, USC must have really done something bad here, they seemed to say. And that Todd McNair-Reggie Bush connection was the final straw.
It wasn't, of course. It was the only straw for the NCAA to connect whatever was happening with Reggie and his parents to get him to leave USC to a USC staffer so they could take USC down in a way that would please all those who wanted to see it taken down. You know the names. We're tired of typing them here.
So they pretty much just made stuff up while getting things wrong. They missed an interview date that mattered, the key piece of evidence in the entire case, by a year. A whole year. And just let it pass. USC was to be hit -- and hit hard. Collateral damage? Well, they didn't like Todd either. So who cares, the NCAA must have thought. We'll get him too. Who's going to know?
Which is the one visceral takeaway from our first sitdown with Todd later that summer. "Why me?" he asked. Why would they do this to him? How could they do this to him? What did he ever do to deserve having his career taken away -- his livelihood, something he loved and was very good at? Why?
Because he was in the way. And they were sure they would get away with it. What appeal would there be? They'd changed the rules enough, they were sure, that there could be none. And in slapping down a really well-reasoned, to-the-point appeal for McNair with obviously little consideration, the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee said get out of here. The NCAA has ruled. How dare you question us. Go away.
And so Todd did. For a few months. But then he and his legal team came back at the NCAA. And said what the NCAA did to him simply would not be allowed to stand. And they would fight to restore his good name. And the NCAA would have to stand behind what it did to him even if USC would no longer be in the fight with him.
And so Todd and his attorneys did, outsmarting and out-arguing the NCAA at every step of the way thus far, as slow and painstaking as this has been against a national organization with nearly a billion dollars in the bank and more than a thousand universities supporting it that has chosen at virtually every step of the way to obfuscate, block, cover up, hide, conceal and keep secret what happened here.
But as it's turned out, since that day nearly seven years ago, it's the NCAA's reputation that has taken a hit. Is there a single national college football observer who believes the original NCAA ruling was fair to McNair or USC? Not that we know of. The NCAA has totally lost that battle.
And we'll take a bow here at USCFootball.com for never giving up on the fight, and pushing hard, to make it happen. This thing has turned around as totally as USC's 55-24 comeback against Notre Dame in 1974.
But we didn't realize that at first until the one moment of live action courtroom drama in all the time it's taken to get here. That was right before Thanksgiving, Nov. 21, 2012, when Judge Shaller announced his ruling and made this all worthwhile for those of us who were there.
The NCAA was "malicious," he said in its investigation and McNair had shown a probability he could win his defamation suit. By that time, we were smiling with the USC alum sitting next to us. This was really happening.
The NCAA was "over the top" in its investigation of McNair, the judge said in his strong 10-page ruling after reading emails between two NCAA staffers and a COI member that "tend to show ill will or hatred" toward Todd, just as we knew had to be the case. And that he thought that the NCAA documents should be unsealed because "I think the public has a right to know."
"We are disappointed with the decision," the NCAA said in a statement about the ruling, "and plan to appeal." And appeal. And appeal. And appeal. And stall. And appeal some more. And now, no more appeals. Your time is up. It's on to next April 18.
But first, more discovery. More documents. More emails. More depositions of the seven thus far un-deposed COI members out of eight. More "ill will" and "hatred" and "malice."
That is, if the NCAA chooses to continue to go down this road before a showdown in court that will most definitely not be under seal, as the NCAA has contended all of this should be.
Or does the NCAA throw in the towel and finally pay for its misguided 11-year miscarriage of justice? And we mean pay in dollars unlike anything the organization has ever had to cough up.
Of course the NCAA could have easily made this go away after Shaller's original decision. Could have made Todd whole, or attempted to. Could have apologized, could have restored him to his career. Could have admitted what it did. And saved itself years of bad publicity and many millions more of settlement costs that are now exponentially increased.
But that's not the NCAA way.
"Malice" and "ill will," lack of transparency and "hatred" seem more like it. The folks who do well when they get to play judge, jury and executioner and get to change the rules and the facts as it suits them, will now face a judge not of their own choosing in a place not of their choosing in a case they just wish would go away.
Welcome to our world, NCAA.