• Villanova Sports Law Blog

The McNair Case (Part II): Legal Implications and Impacts

By Michael Horvath:

Part I of Michael Horvath’s blog on the death of Maryland’s Jordan McNair, discusses the textual legal issues that the university may be subject to after all the investigations have been completed. Wrongful death and negligence were the two legal subjects that seemed the most probable, yet it was important to include the possibility of some criminal liability. However, those are implications that, if brought, will be settled or tried in a courtroom between McNair’s family, the university, and their respective attorneys.

Click here to read Part I.


Part II

While the focus of any actions resulting from this tragedy should be to restore Jordan McNair’s family and make them whole again (if even possible), it is vital to consider the non-legal impacts and circumstances surrounding specific University of Maryland personnel and other college football programs as a whole.


McNair’s death was a wake-up call to coaches and programs across the country; however, to say that this is the first instance of abusive behavior in college football, specifically, would be a ridiculous farce. It seems as if every year in college football, we hear of at least one, if not more, abuse controversies arising out of big-time division one programs. But what is being done here? Sanctions and punishments? Barely. The way the NCAA, and the respective conferences within its jurisdiction, is handling the abuse controversies of these schools is not working and its time for a change.


Whenever a situation like the one here arises, it is common practice to look at the coaching staff first; specifically, the head coach. This practice makes sense in my mind. Some of the coaches at big-time programs have about as much power as the governor in their respective states. For example, Nick Saban is revered in the state of Alabama, and Urban Meyer might as well have sovereign immunity in Ohio. It makes sense: look first at the roots of the program and then expand from there.


In the McNair Case, head football coach DJ Durkin was placed on administrative leave by the school on August 11th following McNair’s death and the pending investigation that was ongoing at the time [1]. Many people close to the football program, including six current players, came forward and testified that the coaching environment under Durkin was one based on “fear and intimidation” [2]. Anonymous personnel at Maryland have made statements that extreme verbal abuse from coaches to players is common and generally features belittling and humiliating comments in front of other members of the team and staff. [3]. Maryland University went as far as releasing strength and condition coach, Rick Court, after news broke that he was a co-conspirator and helping hand to Durkin in the abusive culture. [4]. Here, building an investigation on the internal operations of a sports program was a great start, but it should not end there.


Possibly the greatest concern regarding an abusive environment in sports is the tendency for people to sweep it under the rug. In this case, why was no one speaking up? Were there no logical coaches or training staff scratching their heads thinking “this isn’t good?” Why did a young man have to die before anyone thought to intervene and to begin pointing fingers? This behavior is intolerable, and this is where the NCAA must step in and become more proactive.


These instances of abuse and neglect of people within our athletic programs are far too common, and are punished far too lightly. While we may not know the fate of Maryland football at this point, there are some precedential incidents that are comparable here. This past August, Urban Meyer of the Ohio State University was on the proverbial hot seat for neglecting to report his knowledge of the domestic abuse by one of his former coaches toward that coach’s wife. [5] Meyer was placed on administrative leave, and after a 14-day investigation, was suspended for a mere three games. [6] Now, after eight games, Ohio State football is 7-1, and that controversy is basically forgotten at this point.


Another prime example of this phenomenon is the Jerry Sandusky scandal from Penn State University. Penn State famously received a four-year bowl ban, a hefty $60 million dollar fine, and a scholarship reduction in 2012 after head coach Joe Paterno, and other officials, failed to report Sandusky’s sexual abuse of teenage boys to authorities. [7] The sanctions would end up being lifted by the NCAA before being properly served and, after a Big Ten Championship, all seems to be forgotten in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania.

What is this saying? Win some football games, attract attention and money, and your history of abuse is forgotten? Is that what Maryland football is going to have to do? No, please, no. That cannot be right.

And it should not be right.


It is time for the NCAA, and their respective conference officials, to step up. It all starts with the NCAA implementing strict liability regulations. Abuse in sports is not an intent issue; the NCAA should be focused on deterring this behavior and fixing punishment disparities by implementing strict liability punishments on any malfeasance occurring under their watch.


Additionally, individual athletic conferences need to take preemptive action. Similar to proactive policing or random audits done on corporations, a strong proactive approach to abuse in college athletics would feature program audits and investigations that are done before issues like this take place. In doing so, the goal would be to keep unwelcome behavior in check. The NCAA and its officials should be at practices, they should be in the athletic department offices, and they should be keeping a closer eye on programs to monitor and deter abuse before it even arises.


Jordan McNair did not deserve to die, nor does anyone in his position. However, maybe his story will bring light to the abusive athletic cultures and we will begin to see stronger and more consistent forms of NCAA-governed policing and regulatory statutes. One can only hope.



[1] Dinich, Heather, et al. “The inside Story of a Toxic Culture at Maryland Football.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 10 Aug. 2018, www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/24342005/maryland-terrapins-football-culture-toxic-coach-dj-durkin.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Staff, TMZ. “Ohio State Suspends Urban Meyer Three Games After Investigation.” TMZ, TMZ.com, 23 Aug. 2018, www.tmz.com/2018/08/22/ohio-state-urban-meyer-domestic-violence-investigation-suspended-three-games/.

[6] Id.

[7] Tracy, Steve Eder and Marc. “N.C.A.A. Decides to Roll Back Sanctions Against Penn State.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Dec. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2014/09/09/sports/ncaafootball/penn-states-postseason-ban-is-lifted.html.