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NCAA e-mails raise many questions

by Garry Paskwietz:

It was a moment USC fans had been waiting for, to finally get a look at some of the NCAA e-mails from the Todd McNair case, e-mails which contained language that a judge had called “malicious” and showed “ill will and hatred.”

But no matter how much you thought the NCAA correspondence was going to be slanted or prejudicial against USC it was still pretty shocking to actually read the words and to see some of the thought processes from the people who sat in judgment of the Trojans.

The most damning comments in the documents released yesterday came primarily from two people on the NCAA end, Rodney Uphoff (the NCAA coordinator of appeals) and Roscoe Howard (a former U.S. attorney and member of the infractions committee). Both are non-voting members of the infractions committee whose involvement and influence in the case has been questioned by McNair’s lawyers as being against NCAA procedure.

Uphoff, a law professor at the University of Missouri who is a self-proclaimed expert on prosecutorial misconduct, did not mince words when writing how he felt about USC.

“A failure to sanction USC both in basketball and football rewards USC for swimming with sharks. 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.

Uphoff also said that he hadn’t “been able to sleep for three nights because I fear that the committee is going to be too lenient on USC on the football violations. I think that would be a huge mistake.”

Remember, this is the coordinator of appeals talking here, and it sure sounds like his mind is made up. Of course, Uphoff then took it a step further by holding up Paul Dee as an example of how the act the right way, while disparaging the USC hire of Lane Kiffin as doing things the wrong way.

“Paul Dee was brought in at Miami to clean up a program with serious problems. USC has responded to its problems by bringing in Lane Kiffin. They need a wake-up call that doing things the wrong way will have serious consequences.”

Two words for Mr. Uphoff on this one…Nevin Shapiro. Of all my issues with the NCAA in this case I think my biggest problem is the fact that Dee, with what happened on his watch at Miami, was allowed to head up the USC case…and now Uphoff is claiming that is a good thing. Wow.  And while I’m not going to get into a debate about Kiffin here, I will point out the irony of pre-judging the Kiffin hire by someone who was supposed to be involved with any USC appeal.

But the best, or worst, from Uphoff came with his comparisons to a true tragedy when he invoked the Oklahoma City bombing case (Uphoff had been appointed to represent Terry Nichols).

“But there is no question that the evidence in this (USC) case is much stronger than against Nichols in the OKC case, which was built entirely on circumstantial evidence. In fact, there was no direct evidence that (Terry) Nichols was ever involved in the bombing plot.”

Not only was it incredibly poor taste on Uphoff’s part to make such a comparison but anytime he wants to have a conversation about direct evidence in the USC case I will be happy to have that discussion with him as well.

Of course, Uphoff wasn’t the only committee member who appeared to have his mind made up regarding McNair, as Howard made it clear which way he stood on the facts.

“McNair should have all inferences negatively inferred against him. Credibility determinations are for this committee and this committee alone. As with all tribunals or fact finders, we need not say why we disbelieve him, we need only let the public, or whomever, know that we disbelieve him.”

Perhaps Howard, who called USC’s approach to the case “troubling”, should have paid more attention to the thoughts of fellow committee members Britton Banowsky and Eleanor Myers, both of whom cast doubts on the case against McNair.

“It is challenging for me to make the finding when there is no allegation that he (McNair) personally was involved in any rules violations, or even had specific knowledge of any,” Banowsky wrote.

Myers added, “As Britton says, on this record it is hard to find that he was ‘involved’ in anything,” she wrote.

One of the main arguments that the NCAA made to try and keep the e-mails sealed is that the ability to conduct future investigations would be harmed by the release of the e-mails. Well, if these documents are an example of how the agency conducts its business then I think the way they handle investigations needs to be under serious review. Is this really the way the university presidents want their investigative branch to operate? After all, the NCAA operates at the behest of the presidents and now that the words are there in black and white for everyone to see it will be very interesting to see how the presidents respond, if at all.

One response that USC fans will clearly be waiting for is from their own, either USC president Max Nikias or athletic director Pat Haden. Throughout the NCAA sanction period Haden has gone through the proper channels to appeal the penalties, and his comments toward the NCAA have consistently been conciliatory and above board, much to the chagrin of many in the Trojan Family who felt the need to fight or protest what they felt was a severe injustice. Haden has received his share of criticism for that stance as Trojans watched other schools such as Penn State and Miami either sue or threaten to sue, and then watched as their penalties got reduced or were little more than a slap on the wrist when compared to USC.

The only slap that took place yesterday with the release of the e-mails was the slap in the face at USC for the way in which the investigation was handled. The national perception is clear that the NCAA overstepped their authority on this one, and while it likely means a bigger payday for McNair, USC fans are also hoping it means someone from the university will finally follow the school motto and Fight On in the face of such obvious misconduct.

Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

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