More details about the NCAA’s investigation of USC are leaking out this week after USC Rivals site USCFootball.com reported late last night on previously unreleased NCAA investigative documents.
Many of those documents, which include interview transcripts of USC assistant football coach Todd McNair, are littered with errors that can’t help but call the NCAA’s ultimate findings into question.
McNair’s alleged knowledge of Reggie Bush taking improper benefits from sports marketing agent Lloyd Lake is the heart of the NCAA’s case against USC. It was that alleged proof that led the NCAA to drop its harshest penalties on a football program since the SMU Death Penalty sanction.
Early this morning I posted about the NCAA’s errors in interviewing McNair and Lake. Errors that led to a lack of due process and prevented the establishment of indisputable proof that McNair knew what Lake was doing with Bush.
The most serious of those mistakes were during the investigation of a Jan. 2006 phone call in which Lake called McNair. Despite those discrepancies, the NCAA cited that call as perhaps its most prominent evidence in its case against USC.
The NCAA also attempted to point to calls McNair made to Lake in March 2005 as evidence that he knew what Bush was up to with Lake.
The circumstances, per NCAA investigative documents and USCFootball.com:
Bush was to host a recruit after the Oct. 29, 2005 USC-Washington State game considered the nation’s the top high school prospect.
McNair made repeated attempts to contact Reggie Bush in regards to the top recruit’s official visit. But Bush, on a post-game outing with family and friends, including Lake and Michaels, left the recruit waiting in his hotel room while they ate dinner. The recruit would later verify that timeline.
Among the numerous calls McNair placed to Bush and the recruit that night, three were to a 619 area code that was not Bush’s number. That number, cited from McNair’s USC phone records, belonged to Lake.
The NCAA assistant director of enforcement, Richard Johanningmeier immediately questioned McNair’s credibility when he denied knowing Lake or having any recollection of whose phone number he’d called that night.
“So as you can see from our standpoint, we’re having a lot of problems with your credibility and I have to tell you that there’s a good possibility that, uh, the NCAA could allege a, uh, ethical conduct charge of providing us false, misleading information in the fact that you denied that you know him, we have the telephone calls and we have a photograph with you with people that you say that you don’t know.”
The phone calls and photo were cited as proof despite McNair’s explanation that the three one-minute calls were to a number Bush had given him earlier when Bush’s cellphone wasn’t working. Lake, in his interview, didn’t recall the phone calls.
The photo, which USC was never allowed to see in its original format, had been altered, according to an expert in the university’s response to the NCAA’s allegations. McNair and his easily recognized actor-friend had posed for photos frequently according to his testimony.
Despite pages of documentation covering the Oct. 29 calls, the photo and statements of McNair’s “lack of credibility” the June 10 Infractions Report did not cite this as evidence that the assistant football coach must have had knowledge of the illegal benefits.
So thanks in part to trio of :60 calls McNair made to Lake, that Lake didn’t recall receiving, the NCAA surmised that McNair knew that Lake was partly responsible for giving Bush $300,000 in improper benefits. (The evidence involved in that part of the investigation was so dubious that the NCAA’s own Committee On Infractions threw it out.)
But the question remains: Why was McNair calling Lake that night in a seemingly desperate attempt to reach Bush? Read more…