“Football is to Texas what religion is to a Priest” – Tom Landry
Football being the most important thing in the state of Texas isn’t a new idea. Remember that this is the state where 4 of the top 20 and 3 of the top 8 highest paid college football coaches work. Before the SEC came to rise, Texas was commonly known as the state with the greatest football talent. Much of which went to UT- Austin or A&M, or in the 80’s to SMU or Texas Tech. In more recent years though we have seen the rise of Baylor and TCU as The Lone Star State’s greatest teams. Baylor particularly had risen to unprecedented success under Head Coach Art Briles, including two straight New Year’s Six bowl games and being well in the discussion of the college football playoff for its two years of existence.
But sometimes in the face of success, we seem to forget about our responsibilities as humans, and focus strictly on replicating what we had already managed to do.
That seems to be the story in Waco now a days, as Art Briles has been sent packing, ex-university president Ken Starr, more famously known for his role in the Clinton sex scandal, has stepped down, and athletic director and vice-president Ian McCaw resigned after being placed on probation.
All of these moves by one of college football’s newest powerhouses can be traced to one major wrongdoing: allowing winning to become more important than doing the right thing.
The story started in August when defensive end Sam Ukwuachu was convicted and sentenced to 180 days in jail for sexually assaulting a former Baylor soccer player. It came out that Ukwuachu had a history of assault at his former school, but Briles’ accepted him as a transfer anyway.
This sparked the administration to hire Chicago based law firm Pepper Hamilton to investigate and report on the school’s response to sexual assault allegations as well as other title IX issues.
Time passes and the football season is played. Baylor has yet another good year under Briles ending with a rout of North Carolina in the Russel Athletic Bowl. But unfortunately for Baylor, that win was the last good news it would receive in a while.
On February 2nd, ESPNs Outside The Lines reports that Baylor failed to investigate sexual assault allegations against former football player Tevin Elliot, who is currently serving 20 years in prison for two attacks on another former student, while three more girls claim Elliot attacked them as well, and that the university ignored them when they reported it.
As if this wasn’t enough to heat the seats of Starr and Briles, on April 13th, two weeks before the NFL draft, DE Sean Oakman is arrested for sexual assault.
Starr responds to the reports, acknowledging the mistakes and claiming that the university is actively working to create a safer environment to protect its students.
After Starr’s statement and while the board waited for the results of Pepper Hamilton’s investigation, things took yet another turn for the worst.
Reports arise claiming that the Waco Police Department had been notified of multiple heinous crimes committed by Baylor athletes, but failed to notify the school, and kept them a “cold case” like state. Allowing the department to refuse to release any information regarding the case, yet never moving forward in the investigation.
On May 13th when the Board of Regents receives the report from Pepper Hamilton, it made the decision to suspend Briles with intent to terminate, as well as asks Starr to step down from his position as president.
While this saga is clearly far from over, and most likely there are many more jobs to be lost, it’s reached a point where many have began comparing it to Penn State circa 2011. While the comparison makes sense, it also seems to look like there may be reason to believe that what Baylor has done may actually be worse than what happened in State College. One key reason for this is that what happened in Penn State were the actions of one person, and the failure to respond appropriately by a few others. Whereas in Waco, it seems that the administration, from Starr down, were knowingly assisting football players avoid punishment for rape and sexual assault with the intent of keeping them from missing time on the field. The wrong doing then even stretches outside the university to the police department where they failed to report or even properly investigate claims of athlete misconduct. This all then goes back to the football staff and Briles, where he has openly admitted to bringing in players with histories of sexual misconduct.
It only makes sense for Baylor to clean house, which it has clearly started to do. With this large of a scheme stretching across so many departments and organizations, rather than asking “who knew?” it’s probably easier to ask “who didn’t?”. Anyone who knew and willingly assisted in this massive cover up needs to be terminated and possibly prosecuted, as well as any player who committed one of these crimes needs to be immediately suspended while a full investigation is done. There is no other way for Baylor to handle the situation.
Which brings the question, how does the NCAA handle this? The closest precedent would be Penn State, but there the NCAA was forced to roll back many of sanctions after they had been proved to over step. Did Briles or Starr actually break any NCAA bylaws? While you could claim the players received impermissible benefits, or that the administration showed lack of institutional control, both of these would be tough to prove due to the fact that is no requirement that coaches or schools punish players for their off field actions, meaning that it’s even tougher for the NCAA to punish schools for their failure to act. It’s also hard to see the NCAA handing down similar sanctions after being forced to pull back on them last time.
While what happened in Waco is clearly disgusting, the NCAA should have little to no part in its aftermath. They have already created a nightmare for themselves, including 7 recruits requesting a release for their NLIs just today. If the NCAA feels it needs to get involved, it shouldn’t be any more than a fine for Lack of Ethical Conduct (article 10.1 and 2.4) and allowing players to transfer and be eligible immediately. This isn’t a situation where wins need to be vacated unless it can be proved that players were ineligible based on NCAA rules. A postseason ban isn’t fair either as it punishes many players for the actions of coaches and administrators who are no longer a part of the university.
Baylor is clearly trying to move in the right direction here, but unfortunately for them things like this don’t disappear overnight. The administration will pay the price for what they have done, and the football team will once again have to start at the bottom and climb back to the top, where they have proved that once you make it there, it’s even harder to stay put.