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Mailbag: Breaking down how USC was wronged

3/30/2015

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To the notes!

TrojanDaddy from Los Angeles writes: Ted, thought I was over USC's NCAA debacle, but now this [Todd] McNair stuff is killing me. Always thought we got [cheated], now we know it. Awaiting your take.

Ted Miller: I've talked about the release of NCAA documents, including private communications among committee members and NCAA staffers related to the investigation of USC's football program and former assistant Todd McNair, here and here.

If you want to review some of my past USC-NCAA oeuvre, see here and here and here and here. There are others, such as my take before the whole disaster was set in motion by a horribly unfair NCAA ruling.

First, a couple of declarative statements.

  • Yes, these emails are as bad as they seem, betraying a compromised, unprofessional and unfair process, including aggressive involvement from folks who weren't supposed to be involved at all, according to the NCAA's own official procedures.

  • What's more mind-blowing is there are still more documents, approximately 200 pages, according to the Los Angeles Times, which the NCAA continues to hide from public view. So the evidence against the NCAA, we can only assume, will only get worse.

  • It's difficult to believe, no matter how long the NCAA tries to hide behind legal maneuvers, that McNair won't eventually get paid, likely through a substantial settlement instead of a jury trial.

What does this mean for USC? Will it sue the NCAA? Will there be an unprecedented "mea culpa" from the organization? (You can find its initial response here.) Can USC get some sort of retroactive relief, even a special dispensation that allows it to add scholarship players to get to the maximum of 85 as quickly as possible?

I honestly have no idea how that next chapter might turn out, but the scuttlebutt is USC is exploring its options, which might eventually placate in some way Trojans fans who believed the school has been too passive in accepting the NCAA's harsh treatment.

As for where things stand from a legal perspective with McNair's case, this is the best thing I've read, as it was written by someone with an actual law degree.

Now, three important names have been noted in news reports: Rodney Uphoff, Roscoe Howard and Shep Cooper. What you need to know about them is they were not voting members of the committee of infractions chaired by Paul Dee charged with ruling on USC's case. They were not supposed to participate in the deliberations.

First, understand this process. The committee on infractions (COI) is supposed to operate independently of NCAA administrators. The COI is, according to the NCAA's own language, "... comprised of individuals serving as volunteers from NCAA member institutions and conferences and individuals from the general public who have legal training."

So, by definition, Uphoff and Cooper are not part of the COI process of deliberation and voting.

Start with Uphoff. He was the NCAA coordinator of appeals. He was in the room in an official capacity so he could be knowledgeable about the investigation and ruling in the event of an appeal. Not only did he have no voting rights, his job by definition was to suspend judgment -- as much as humanly possible -- so the institution in question could get a fair appeal of its ruling.

So, yeah, it's a massive ethical breach that he wrote to COI members that "USC has responded to its problems by bringing in Lane Kiffin. They need a wakeup call that doing things the wrong way will have serious consequences. In light of all of the problems at USC, a failure to send a serious message in this case undercuts efforts to help clean up NCAA sports."

Cooper's official title is "Director NCAA Infractions Committees," but that doesn't accurately describe his job. He's a liaison for the committee. His role is designed to be administrative, to assist the committee. His job pretty specifically doesn't include volunteering to the COI that McNair is "a lying morally bankrupt criminal, in my view, and a hypocrite of the highest order."

Then there's Howard. He was the author of a four-page -- single-spaced! -- tirade against USC and McNair, which is interesting because he officially was attending the meetings only as an observer so he could serve on a future COI. He was supposed to be learning, not teaching. He was not supposed to volunteer that “McNair should have all inferences negatively inferred against him."

Howard also wrote: "I don't think this committee should be chained to a (enforcement) staff that has seemed to have fallen short with this investigation or an Institution that has no intention of having us find out what actually happened here."

Think about that assertion. Howard is essentially saying the COI shouldn't be troubled by the lack of substantial evidence. Seriously, read it again.

Just think, we are headed into the 10th anniversary of Reggie Bush's final season and we are still talking about this raging trash fire -- Bush and his family, by the way, were certainly culpable -- of a case. Blows my mind.


Sam from Phoenix writes: Do you have any insight into ASU's defensive plan for the year? I get so frustrated watching them send seven guys after the quarterback only to give up a big play. Sure, it's nice to get more turnovers and sacks, but I don't think my blood pressure is low enough to deal with another season of Todd Graham's "all-or-nothing" overaggressive defense.

Ted Miller: Ah, a football question! Sweet!

And yet isn't it funny that you typically hear rants about "read-and-react" defenses or vituperations against the three-man rush, yet now we have Sam being unhappy with Todd Graham's "all-or-nothing" aggressiveness. Go figure.

The goal for every defense is to be able to get pressure with four guys, and Graham's is no exception. In 2013, with Will Sutton and Carl Bradford, that was possible. In 2014, the Sun Devils didn't have a dominant pass-rusher or any defensive lineman, for that matter, who demanded a double-team. I'm not sold that they have one for 2015, either, particularly after the suspension of junior-college transfer Davon Durant, who was supposed to fill that Bradford-like role at the "Devil" linebacker spot.

Graham is as aware as anybody that a jailbreak pass rush is high-risk, high-reward. He took note of his defense giving up big plays last year during his pre-spring sit-down with reporters. He doesn't like it any more than you, though he really likes sacks and tackles for a loss, a staple of his aggressive scheme.

My guess is having nine starters returning instead of three, as he did in 2014, will solve some issues, as experience is always better than inexperience. Guys will be smarter and more physically prepared. I feel certain that the Sun Devils will be better on defense this fall.


Alex from Sweet 16 vs. Duke in Houston writes: Give me a buy/sell on Travis Wilson being the starting QB at Utah this fall.

Ted Miller: Buy.

I'm a happy-endings guy. I love Wilson's resilience and I think he'll have his best year as a fourth-year starter leading a team that has a shot to win the rugged South Division.