Baylor 'admitted to moral and ethical failings,' but avoids major NCAA penalties

The NCAA has finally released the results of its investigation into the Baylor football program.

On Wednesday, more than five years after the school fired head coach Art Briles amid a major sexual assault scandal, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions handed down its ruling.

While there were violations uncovered, the NCAA panel that oversaw the case "could not conclude that Baylor violated NCAA rules when it failed to report allegations of and address sexual and interpersonal violence committed on its campus."

"Baylor admitted to moral and ethical failings in its handling of sexual and interpersonal violence on campus but argued those failings, however egregious, did not constitute violations of NCAA rules. Ultimately, and with tremendous reluctance, this panel agrees," the panel said in its decision. "To arrive at a different outcome would require the [committee] to ignore the rules the Association's membership has adopted — rules under which the [committee] is required to adjudicate. Such an outcome would be antithetical to the integrity of the infractions process."

In a release, the NCAA said its rules "do not call for the Committee on Infractions to adjudicate" how schools respond to issues like the handling of sexual violence.

From the NCAA:

This case primarily involved allegations that Baylor shielded football student-athletes from the school's disciplinary processes and did not report allegations of misconduct by football student-athletes.

The panel considered charges that three specific instances of alleged actual or threatened violence by football student-athletes went unreported by members of the football staff and resulted in impermissible benefits to the involved student-athletes. The panel found that those instances of non-reporting did not constitute impermissible benefits to football student-athletes because of a campus-wide culture of nonreporting.

The NCAA did find violations that occurred between 2011 and 2016, including impermissible benefits for one football player and the use of a "predominantly female student-host program that did not align with NCAA recruiting rules."

As a result, Baylor has been hit with four years probation, a $5,000 fine and several recruiting restrictions. Those include a reduction in official and unofficial visits, prohibiting recruiting communication during a two-week period of the 2021-22 academic year and reducing the program's number of recruiting evaluation days during fall 2021 and spring 2022.

Additionally, a five-year show-cause penalty has been given to a former assistant director of football operations for not participating in the investigation. Baylor will also be forced to vacate any records that occurred where an ineligible player participated.

WACO, TEXAS - OCTOBER 12: General view of McLane Stadium during the game between the Texas Tech Red Raiders and Baylor Bears on October 12, 2019 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
The NCAA Committee on Infractions' ruling on Baylor was finally released on Wednesday. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Baylor avoids major NCAA penalties

The NCAA said it investigated whether or not football players were given special treatment, but "could not conclude violations occurred" in three of the four instances it looked into.

Because of this, Briles — and the football program as a whole — escaped major penalties, such as failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance and lack of institutional control. Those specific charges usually lead to major NCAA penalties, including the loss of scholarships and a bowl ban.

From the NCAA:

The panel also considered allegations related to the school's general student conduct process in which football student-athletes allegedly received special treatment in four instances. However, the panel could not conclude violations occurred in three of those instances, because the record shows that the general student body received the same treatment. As a result, the panel also could not find that the former football head coach failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance or that Baylor lacked intuitional control, largely because those allegations were specifically tied to the underlying allegations that ultimately did not result in violations.

NCAA panel: Art Briles' attitude 'deeply troubling'

The NCAA panel said it "gave careful scrutiny" to Briles' handling of "specific instances of alleged sexual assault, interpersonal violence and threats of violence" that were the focus of the case.

In the instances examined, the NCAA said that when Briles received information "regarding potential criminal conduct" by one of his players, he "did not report the information" or "personally look any further into the matter."

The NCAA said Briles had an "incurious attitude toward potential criminal conduct" by his players and "generally relied" on his staff to "handle problems."

"His incurious attitude toward potential criminal conduct by his student-athletes was deeply troubling to the panel," the infractions report says.

The panel said that Briles "failed to meet even the most basic expectations of how a person should react to the kind of conduct at issue in this case."

"As a campus leader, the head coach is held to an even higher standard. He completely failed to meet this standard," the report says.

Nonetheless, Briles' conduct did not fall under the purview of NCAA violations:

However, there is no linkage between this conduct and Level I or II NCAA violations. The COI has never before concluded that a head coach responsibility violation occurred where there were no underlying NCAA violations. The panel makes no determination as to whether such an allegation or conclusion would be appropriate in a future case. But under the specific facts and circumstances of this case, the panel does not conclude that a head coach responsibility violation occurred.

The NCAA said Baylor failed to prioritize the implementation of Title IX, which created an environment in which "faculty and staff did not know and/or understand their obligations to report allegations of sexual or interpersonal violence."

NCAA has been investigating Baylor since at least 2017

Baylor first acknowledged that it was being investigated by the NCAA in June 2017, months after ESPN reported that BU administrators had been interviewed by NCAA investigators. That was more than a year after it fired Briles, the coach who brought the Bears to the top of the Big 12 during his eight-year tenure. However, Briles was fired after an investigation was conducted to assess how the school handled accusations of sexual assault, particularly among Briles’ football program.

The investigation found failings within the athletic department and football program and said there were “significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of student-athlete misconduct.” In addition to the firing of Briles, the investigation led to the resignation of athletic director Ian McCaw and the removal of president Ken Starr.

The Big 12 subsequently mandated that Baylor implement more than 100 recommendations made by Pepper Hamilton, the law firm that conducted the investigation. Throughout that process, the Big 12 withheld millions in revenue before it determined that BU had sufficiently returned to a suitable level of compliance.

Amidst all of that, the NCAA’s investigation still loomed. In late 2018, a notice of allegations was sent to the school. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the NCAA postponed all of its infractions hearings, which further pushed the Baylor case down the road. Later, in December 2020, Baylor announced that it completed a two-day virtual hearing with the Committee on Infractions.

Baylor football has carried on with NCAA looming

In the immediate aftermath of Briles’ firing, Baylor struggled on the field. Longtime Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe served as the team’s interim head coach in 2016 and helped the team reach a bowl game.

BU then hired Matt Rhule from Temple. Rhule coached Baylor for three seasons, rebuilding the Bears into a Big 12 contender by Year 3. BU went 1-11 in his first season, finished 7-6 in his second season and then won 11 games in 2019. Baylor finished as the Big 12 runner-up that year, losing to Oklahoma in the conference title game.

After that season, Rhule left to become the head coach of the Carolina Panthers and BU brought in LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. In Aranda’s first season, Baylor went 2-7. Now his program will have to endure the NCAA penalties brought on by a previous regime.

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