Judge says NCAA 'malicious' in USC investigation

ANTHONY McCARTNEY Associated Press Published:

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The NCAA was "malicious" in its investigation of a former Southern California assistant football coach who was linked in a report to a scandal surrounding Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Reggie Bush, a judge said Wednesday.

The NCAA's report on ethical breaches by Todd McNair was flawed, and the former coach has shown a probability he can win his defamation claims, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller said.

The NCAA had sought to have the case dismissed, but Shaller disagreed. He said after reviewing sealed documents in the McNair inquiry, which was tied to a gift scandal involving Heisman Trophy-winner Reggie Bush, he was convinced that the actions of NCAA investigators were "over the top."

His 10-page ruling states emails between an investigative committee member, an NCAA worker and a person who works in the agency's appeals division "tend to show ill will or hatred" toward McNair.

"We are disappointed with the decision and plan to appeal," the NCAA said in a statement.

McNair sued the NCAA in June 2011, claiming the association's investigation was one-sided and his future earnings were hurt by its report on the scandal, which led to sanctions against USC. The NCAA determined McNair lied about knowing about some of the gifts lavished on Bush's family by two aspiring sports marketers who hoped to land the future NFL player as a client.

The NCAA imposed a two-year bowl ban and scholarship restrictions on USC last year as a result of the Bush case. McNair was prohibited from contacting recruits and his USC contract was not renewed.

Shaller said he would unseal the entire inquiry into McNair, but would hold off on release of the records for a month to allow an appeal. "I think the public has a right to know," he said.

McNair's attorney Bruce Broillet declined comment, citing the sealing order in the case. He said during the hearing that the records showed the agency knew it was relying on false statements about McNair's conduct and wanted to "nail" the coach, who also played in the NFL.

"They wrote evidence the way they wanted it to be -- that's malice," Broillet said.

Laura Wytsma, an attorney for the NCAA rejected that contention in court, saying the evidence in the case show the committee that investigated McNair was trying to get its report right.

"They were struggling to get the right result," she said, adding that several members of the investigative committee were prominent lawyers and legal scholars.

She also argued that records in the case should not be unsealed, saying it would hurt future investigations. The NCAA does not have subpoena power, she said.

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Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP