Todd McNair, the coach who the NCAA enforcement staff painted as the crux of USC’s responsibility for the Reggie Bush violations, passed a major test when his lawsuit survived a motion to dismiss from the NCAA. The judge found that the NCAA’s prosecution of McNair was “malicious” and “over the top”.
McNair’s lawsuit is more or less a defamation suit, rather than the more common due process suits that have been filed (unsuccessfully) for years against the NCAA. Defamation is a tough claim, especially if McNair is considered a public figure. But the judge’s comments raise the possibility that McNair might be able to prove that the NCAA willfully disregarded the truth, which is the standard in a defamation case for a public figure.
The defamation angle is also noteworthy given the back and forth between the NCAA and student-athletes in reinstatement cases surrounding the release of information. The cases involving Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Muhammad, and the two suspended Indiana players all contain the common thread of the athletes, their families, lawyers, and/or institution being unhappy with the NCAA’s announcement. If McNair ultimately succeeds with his defamation claim, similar releases may become a new avenue for athletes and coaches to attack NCAA decisions.