When Did the Baylor Nation Decide That Football Was More Important Than Anything?

Art Briles, before he was dismissed as Baylor's football coach.
Art Briles, before he was dismissed as Baylor's football coach.
Ian Halperin, Cotton Bowl Athletic Association

Baylor terminated head football coach Art Briles yesterday. This was just one of a series of moves made by the school Thursday in the wake of the Pepper Hamilton report. The report, commissioned by former school president Ken Starr, found the school to be shockingly deficient when it came to reacting to a string of sexual assault allegations made against members of the Baylor football team over a period of three years.

Starr, the great moral scold himself, was demoted from president to chancellor in the wake of the report, and the school’s athletic director, Ian McCaw, was placed on probation. Just earlier this week, it appeared that Starr was soon to be terminated while it would be Briles holding onto a job, but apparently the report was so disturbing to the Baylor Board of Regents that its members felt that Briles must be terminated — the board meanwhile apparently bought into Starr’s excuse that he knew absolutely nothing about what was happening on the campus until last fall, at which point he requested the investigation by the Pepper Hamilton law firm.

It is good that Baylor finally acted, but in many ways, these actions are probably too little, too late. It’s mystifying that Starr and McCaw still have jobs, especially since it was determined that actions by “administrators directly discouraged some complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes and in one instance constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault” (quoting from a Baylor press release). And especially after it was determined that athletic department leadership failed to identify and to respond to a pattern of sexual violence by football players.

In reading the statement issued by Baylor, which offers up some details on what Pepper Hamilton found, it becomes evident that all of this happened because it was determined that winning football games was much, much more important than the safety of the student body. The football staff conducted its own investigations, refused to notify the university of several incidents and interfered with police inquiries. The football staff instituted its own informal system of discipline that kept the players out of the school’s disciplinary system, and, quoting from Pepper Hamilton's Finding of Facts, the football program did nothing to “protect campus safety once [it was] aware of a potential pattern of sexual violence by multiple football players.”

Former Baylor basketball coach Dave Bliss was hit with a ten-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA when it was determined that he had lied to the NCAA during the investigation into the death of one of his players, Patrick Dennehy — Bliss called him a drug dealer in an attempt to cover up the fact that Bliss was paying Dennehy’s tuition against NCAA rules. (For the uninitiated, a show-cause letter means that a school must show cause to the NCAA as to why that person should be hired during that time period.) And current UH basketball coach Kelvin Sampson had to sit out for five years because of an NCAA show-cause letter generated as a result of repeat recruiting violations while he was coaching Oklahoma and Indiana.

So it would stand to reason that Briles is facing some major punishment from the NCAA for letting such acts to occur. And the NCAA is now looking into what happened at Baylor. But after the controversy that ensued after NCAA hit Penn State with major sanctions in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia discovery — the NCAA ended up taking back several of the penalties — it’s possible that the NCAA might end up doing nothing to Briles or to Baylor, especially if there’s no evidence of recruiting, academic or amateur violations.

The Pepper Hamilton Finding of Facts does indicate that Baylor didn’t conduct due diligence with several of the players who transferred into the program, further stating that the program failed to seek out information about criminal backgrounds or student conduct at previous schools. So it’s very possible that within that area, the NCAA could find recruiting and academic issues with which to punish the school and/or Briles.

The Briles family might feel that this entire thing has been blown out of proportion. And there might be numerous players on the team who disagree with Briles’s termination. But something had to be done because if ever there was a school and athletic program demonstrating a lack of institutional control, it’s Baylor and the Baylor football team.

Baylor must now scramble for a football coach — it’s reportedly talking to the team’s defensive coordinator about taking the job — and it must now find some way to repair a reputation that was just recovering from what Dave Bliss had done to it. But in the end, none of this will be enough to repair the damage to any victims assaulted by players, and by the school itself.

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