Reggie Bush’s last college football season was 2005. Five years and one big NCAA investigation later, the NCAA found that Bush and his family had gotten gifts from agents while he was in school, including cash, a car, and housing. The NCAA took away Bush’s Heisman Trophy and lots of USC wins. But it really hit USC running backs coach Todd McNair:
The NCAA’s committee on infractions ruled McNair had known Bush was involved in compliance violations and that he misled enforcement staff during their investigation. The NCAA gave McNair a one-year show-cause penalty, which made him essentially unemployable as a college football coach. USC let McNair’s contract expire shortly after the NCAA ruling, and he hasn’t gotten another college coaching job since.
A show-cause requires a school to, literally, show cause to the NCAA for why it should be allowed to hire a coach whom the NCAA’s found to have broken its rules.
It typically works as a de-facto ban on college athletic employment for the length of the penalty, and in cases like McNair’s, the punished coach might never get back into the business.
McNair sued the NCAA for defamation in 2011, arguing that the organization kept him from getting a job in college sports.
McNair’s show-cause only lasted a year, but he never reentered college coaching. He argued that the NCAA railroaded him in a sham investigation.
McNair lost his own case that the NCAA defamed him, but his team did convince the judge that the NCAA’s penalty violated California law.
And the judge issued a final ruling on Tuesday, calling it an “unlawful restraint.”
“McNair’s ability to practice his profession as a college football coach has been restricted, if not preempted, not only in Los Angeles, but in every state in the country,” he wrote.
This means the NCAA can’t legally give show-cause penalties to coaches or administrators in California. It doesn’t extend to other states (for now).
The ruling came from Los Angeles County Superior Court, part of the state judiciary, not the federal one. It could spare coaches at any of the state’s sports-playing schools, including more than 20 in Division I and seven that play FBS football: USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, Fresno State, San Diego State, and San Jose State.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott previously warned — apparently with a straight face, in a sworn declaration — that this ruling could BRING DOWN COLLEGE SPORTS IN CALIFORNIA.
“If California law prevents institutions in that state from honoring such commitments, it is hard to see how the Pac-12’s Member Universities in California could continue to meet the requirements of NCAA membership,” Scott wrote in a three-page sworn declaration filed in court Friday. “Thus, the Court’s tentative ruling would place at risk the competitive and scholarship opportunities that flow from NCAA participation for the Pac-12’s California Member Universities.”
The ruling does raise questions about what courts in other states might decide and how the NCAA might try to enforce its rules now that a large state has axed a main type of punishment.
This will not bring down college sports in California.
It will prevent the NCAA from giving show-cause penalties to coaches working in California, though, potentially making it harder for the NCAA to crack down on coaches it finds gave players or recruits money to play sports.