Greeson: Coach suit key part of USC saga

Greeson: Coach suit key part of USC saga

June 7th, 2011 by Jay Greeson in Sportscolumns

The Bowl Championship Series stripped Southern Cal of its 2004 football championship. New York's Downtown Athletic Club stripped former USC star Reggie Bush of his Heisman Trophy.

The scandal that centered around Bush's involvement with agents caused the NCAA to strip USC of 30 scholarships and of postseason trips for two years.

The legacy of the violations, though, will be determined by how the courts view a lawsuit filed last week by former Trojans running backs coach Todd McNair.

McNair did not have his contract renewed after the NCAA ruled that he knew about or should have known about the substantial amounts of money that agents were giving Bush. McNair also was slapped with the college coaches' version of the Scarlet Letter - the dreaded "Show-Cause" penalty that forces NCAA-member schools to prove to the NCAA why those coaches deserve to be reinstated in college sports.

McNair's suit seeks unspecified damages for seven alleged offenses - including libel, slander and breach of contract - and the lawsuit could forever change the NCAA's ability to police, regulate and discipline its members.

Sure, in instances such as Ohio State, where it appears that there were a room full of blind eyes focused on the trees rather than the forest, the entire system must be questioned.

Whether McNair knew Bush was receiving money from agents and breaking major NCAA rules is not the point. Whether McNair should have known is the point and one the NCAA can't afford to recant.

Did Bush violate those rules? Yes, and he should bear the weight of those mistakes. But if college coaches are not expected to keep tabs on their players and keep their players from breaking NCAA rules, well, who will be held accountable? And if the NCAA loses the potential and the power of the "Show-Cause" tag, well, the only ones left to punish after the rule-breaking players leave for the NFL and the rule-breaking head coaches leave for TV or the Seattle Seahawks will be the schools.

The recent run of scandals - either real or alleged - in big-time college sports programs has been unprecedented. High-powered schools have rotated turns in the NCAA's crosshairs, and one of the few positive changes that has emerged from this is that the people are being punished as much as the programs.

College sports never will find the proper path as long as the people who break the rules are held less accountable. For the first time in recent memory, the violators are being held accountable for their transgressions, especially those who are caught lying.

Among the charges McNair has levied is a claim that the NCAA committed mistakes in the process of its investigation. Barring a sealed settlement, this case could create ripple effects through the structure of the NCAA.

Think Bruce Pearl and Jim Tressel - two recently dismissed coaches who likely are facing "Show-Cause" penalties - are not paying close attention to McNair's allegations?

Think administrators at schools that under NCAA investigation are not closely monitoring the effects of whether the NCAA made mistakes during the USC fact-finding process?

Sure, and the rest of the Big Ten has no idea that THE Ohio State University is under a little bit of an NCAA-generated black cloud at the moment.

Pearl, the former Tennessee basketball coach who lied to NCAA investigators, will be part of the Volunteers contingent that is interviewed Friday at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. Pearl committed the ultimate no-no, and the NCAA does not take kindly to such matters.

He has paid and will continue to pay for his mistakes, but without the ability to levy the "Show-Cause" penalty or even the implied power to "encourage" a coaching change, the NCAA will lose the ability to hold accountable those committing the violations.

The Vols wisely fired Pearl and distanced themselves from his checkered NCAA history. It was the only play, considering all the baggage and the rumors of the extensive penalties that were on the horizon if Pearl had stayed on staff.

If McNair's suit proves successful, in the years to come the UT program would have been on the hook more than Pearl for his misdeeds.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.