The University of New Hampshire Law Review


Josh Lens


In late 2018, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge sent shockwaves through college athletics by ruling that the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions (“COI”) unlawfully restrained now-former University of Southern California (“USC”) assistant football coach Todd McNair’s career when it imposed a “show-cause” penalty on him. Judge Frederick Shaller therefore declared NCAA show-cause penalties void under California employment law.

For decades, the COI has utilized show-cause penalties to punish individuals who break NCAA rules. Reserved for more egregious violations, universities and administrators long treated show-cause orders as scarlet letters, typically terminating or refusing to hire coaches subject to them. That trend has somewhat eased recently, however, as evidenced by notable examples such as head men’s basketball coaches Bruce Pearl and Kelvin Sampson securing employment at NCAA member universities after receiving the punishment.

After the COI imposed a show-cause penalty on McNair for his involvement in the infamous infractions case including USC and its now-former running back and Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, McNair did not find potential employers as forgiving as those who hired Pearl and Sampson. McNair sued the NCAA, claiming a faulty investigation and infractions process and imposition of the show-cause penalty combined to end his college coaching career.

The case has proved to be a saga, with McNair ultimately losing his defamation claim against the NCAA. However, Judge Shaller invalidated the show-cause penalty under California employment law, leading to a very unsettled future for the NCAA, coaches, and other college athletics constituents. Those associated with, or interested in, college athletics should familiarize themselves with the enormous ramifications of Shaller’s decision, which is currently on appeal, in case courts continue to affirm it.

This Article details both show-cause orders and instances where coaches have received them yet gone on to successfully secure employment in college athletics. Next, the Article profiles McNair and describes both his involvement in the USC infractions case and litigation against the NCAA. The Article analyzes the merits of the NCAA’s appeal of Shaller’s decision and explores the immense ramifications of a potential affirmance of Shaller’s decision. The Article concludes by suggesting alternate means of enforcing NCAA legislation that would not run afoul of California employment law.

Repository Citation

Josh Lens, Voiding the NCAA Show-Cause Penalty: Analysis and Ramifications of a California Court Decision and Where College Athletics and Show-Cause Penalties Go From Here, 19 U.N.H. L. Rev. 21 (2020).

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