The long-lasting saga between former USC assistant coach Todd McNair and the NCAA could conclude in a Los Angeles court next month. But before that trial begins, the judge in the case wants a deposition from NCAA president Mark Emmert.
McNair filed a defamation suit against the NCAA in 2011 after he was given a show-cause penalty for his role in the investigation into extra benefits given to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. The penalty for McNair was part of wide-ranging sanctions, including a bowl ban and scholarship reductions, levied to the Trojans football program.
Seven years later, a trial is finally approaching. And on Thursday, Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Frederick Shaller said McNair’s attorneys can question Emmert “in order to investigate the intent and knowledge behind one of the statements McNair alleges to be defamatory.” According to the Los Angeles Times, the deposition is scheduled for April 4 in Indianapolis — two weeks before the trial is set to begin on April 18.
Per the L.A. Times, the alleged defamatory statement in question stems from a comment Emmert made to USA Today in December 2010:
In one filing, McNair’s attorneys described Emmert as “one of the NCAA employees who participated in the character assassination of Mr. McNair” and accused the executive of having “orally made false statements to members of the media … heard and read by millions of people residing around the world” about the infractions case that led to historic sanctions against USC.
Those comments were made a month after he began serving as president. Thusly, the NCAA cited the timeline of Emmert’s hire and lack of involvement with the USC case in its effort to avoid the deposition.
At issue are Emmert’s comments to USA Today in December 2010: “Everybody looks at the Reggie Bush case and says, ‘It took them a long time.’ But they got it right, I think.”
The January email from the NCAA attorney pushed back, saying Emmert was “walled off” from the infractions proceeding against USC and McNair. It noted Emmert didn’t have a case file on the matter and, as shown during discovery for McNair’s lawsuit, possessed a single nonpublic document on the case: an email giving advance notice that the report by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions would be released.
“There is no evidence on the record that President Emmert had any involvement in the adjudication of the USC or McNair matters, and you have never been able to point to any evidence to the contrary. The purported statement does not come close to justifying your deposition request.”
The quest to depose Emmert is the latest in this long, winding case. Back in May 2016, the NCAA filed a motion to remove Shaller from overseeing the case (its second attempt to do so) because, in part, he attended USC.
At the time, the NCAA said there was no way it could receive a fair trial if it took place “just miles from USC where students and alumni publish vitriolic, hateful messages about the NCAA with each case development” and that the court should “guard against any public perception of bias arising from the trial judge’s ties to USC.”
The motion, which was denied, was filed a few months after the California Supreme Court denied a previous NCAA appeal that sought to move the case outside of Los Angeles court.
The NCAA tried to have the lawsuit dismissed, but Shaller rejected that motion. When he did so, he cited emails between members of the NCAA’s committee on infractions. Those emails were among hundreds of pages of internal NCAA emails unsealed in 2015. In one email, an NCAA official described McNair as a “lying, morally bankrupt criminal” and a “hypocrite of the highest order.”
After those documents were released, USC issued a statement saying it was “evident” the NCAA had “bias against McNair and USC.”
“We are extremely disappointed and dismayed at the way the NCAA investigated, judged and penalized our university throughout this process,” part of the statement read. “USC hopes that the transparency in this case will ultimately lead to review and changes so that all member institutions receive the fair and impartial treatment they deserve.”
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was also critical of the NCAA enforcement system.
“The punishments on USC were too harsh and after an initial review of the documents released, we share USC’s serious concern regarding the process undergone by the NCAA and its Committee on Infractions, as well as the substance of their actions in the case,” Scott told the L.A. Times.
McNair has not coached at any level since the NCAA show-cause was levied. His attorneys labeled the NCAA decision as “career-ending” for McNair, who coached running backs at USC from 2004 to 2009.
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