Jon Wilner — Off the field and the radar, a trial began this week in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Todd McNair vs. the NCAA.
It has the potential to be a whopper.
By that I mean: An unmitigated embarrassment for the governing body of college sports and its treatment of the premier football brand in one of the five most powerful conferences.
You would be forgiven for not remembering McNair.
The former USC assistant coach has been out of the news since he was the news — since his central role in the NCAA’s investigation into Reggie Bush a decade ago.
The evidence against McNair helped provide the foundation for the NCAA’s case, and sanctions, against the Trojans.
Considered severe at the time, the penalties now appear preposterous given the manner in which the NCAA has handled subsequent cases involving more extreme transgressions:
The Trojans were banned from the postseason for two years, docked 30 scholarships over three years and scarred for eternity.
Regarding McNair specifically, the NCAA investigators determined that he “knew or should have known” about the extra benefits paid to Bush.
The evidence, in the form of a photograph and a phone call — yep, that’s the extent of it — connected McNair to a low-rent marketer named Lloyd Lake, who was funneling cash to Bush and his family.
Time hasn’t dispelled the notion that the case against McNair, and thus USC, was flimsy.
That the investigation got personal for NCAA officials frustrated by USC’s stonewalling.
That the sanctions were grossly, incomprehensibly, historically unfair.
Eight years later, McNair’s defamation case — it claims slander, libel and just about everything else — is underway. Opening statements are today.
Expected to last a few weeks, the trial will feature former NCAA investigators as witnesses, a deposition by NCAA boss Mark Emmert and evidence that could make the NCAA look very, very bad.
(What always seemed unfathomable to me, even for the NCAA: Paul Dee, the Miami athletic director during a multi-year run of major rules violations in Coral Gables, presided over the Committee on Infractions’ sanctions of USC.
(Dee won’t take the stand in the McNair case, however. He died six years ago.)
For USC, nothing will get those scholarships back.
But proof of a flawed process … of personal vendettas … of unjust sanctions … of hypocrisy like only the NCAA can deliver — it would all make for a long-awaited victory in Trojanland.