The jury foreman in the trial of former USC assistant football coach Todd McNair’s defamation lawsuit against the NCAA said Wednesday that progress was being made in breaking an 8-4 impasse, but that the panel probably will not cast any further ballots until Thursday.

“I think we’ll need the afternoon to try and get through the issues we’re working on,” the foreman said.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller dismissed the jurors for lunch early after complimenting them on their work. He said after they left that he was surprised at the optimistic way the foreman described the most recent deliberations, saying it was in contrast to “hopelessness they were projecting” earlier.

Shaller told the panelists earlier Wednesday morning that they should not speculate why McNair’s claims for breach of contract and negligence are no longer in the case, a question that was raised Tuesday by the foreman when he announced that the jury was at an impasse.

Prior to the start of deliberations Monday morning, McNair’s attorneys voluntarily dropped those two claims, leaving defamation as the only allegation to be decided.

The judge has not asked the jurors which way the majority are leaning.

McNair spent six seasons at USC coaching Trojan running backs under former head coach Pete Carroll. But his contract was not renewed after the NCAA alleged in a report that McNair knew about star player Reggie Bush’s relationship with two sports agents, San Diego sports marketers Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels, who were providing Bush with benefits, according to his lawsuit.

McNair received a show-cause penalty from the NCAA, meaning that he had to receive permission from the NCAA for any recruiting he did for one year.

McNair, who filed his lawsuit in June 2011, maintains that he was unaware of Bush’s relationship between Lake and Michaels and that the NCAA committed misconduct in its investigation.

The NCAA’s court papers say McNair’s statements were contradicted by Lake.

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