Baylor sold its soul to the devil for gridiron glory

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You spend enough years being beaten down in the Texas bloodsport of college football and it can warp your worldview.

Baylor was a historic nobody, trod upon by the powers in the state and region. It was the butt of jokes. It had no bragging rights. The Bears once went 50 years between Southwest Conference championships, from 1924-74, and had 14 straight losing seasons from 1996-2009. Alums took their rhetorical lumps and had their egos bruised at social gatherings, in the office, on message boards, and most every autumn Saturday.

Art Briles brought a winning culture to Baylor, but it came at a hefty cost. (AP)
Art Briles brought a winning culture to Baylor, but it came at a hefty cost. (AP)

When you have been down that long and fortunes suddenly change, as they did for Baylor in 2010, the winning feels so good that you never want it to stop and you sure don't want to question how it's happening. The giddy sensation that accompanies 10-win seasons and a Heisman Trophy and the chance to finally whip Texas and Oklahoma – that's a powerful drug.

Baylor got hooked on winning.

It stopped caring about the corrosive side effects of recruiting many questionable characters who could ball out on fall Saturdays. It averted its gaze from violent players who raped women, who beat women, who beat other students. It failed to take significant action against those players – sometimes with the help of the local police. It allowed a criminal subculture to exist within a part of its football program. It left their victims feeling helpless and used, collateral damage in the quest for gridiron glory.

Until now. Until Thursday, May 26, 2016. A sad day for Baylor football, but a good day for Baylor University.

The school finally kicked the winning drug long enough to look at the appalling damage done by some members of its football program and do something about it.

Baylor's board of regents suspended coach Art Briles "with intent to terminate according to contractual procedures," according to the school's strongly worded and condemnatory release issued Thursday. In other words, they'll negotiate a settlement, and the most successful coach in school history will be history.

The fallout didn't stop there, though. In something straight out of Sophocles' imagination, Ken Starr was removed as school president – the same man who once sought to impeach a U.S. president for moral failings was demoted for presiding over a school that didn't seem to care too terribly much about female students being raped by football players.

Athletic director Ian McCaw was "sanctioned and placed on probation," the release said, a fate that might be too kind. "Additional members of the Administration and Athletics program have also been dismissed. Neither these individuals nor the disciplinary actions will be identified publicly," according to the school.

This is a drastic action. It also is a completely necessary action.

The release from the school, which comes after the Pepper Hamilton law firm's review of the school's manifold failings, is appropriately filled with the language of remorse and disgust.

"We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus. This investigation revealed the University's mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students," said Richard Willis, chair of the Baylor Board of Regents. "The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve more, and we have committed our full attention to improving our processes, establishing accountability and ensuring appropriate actions are taken to support former, current and future students."

This directly from the law firm's report:

"Pepper found that the University's student conduct processes were wholly inadequate to consistently provide a prompt and equitable response under Title IX, that Baylor failed to consistently support complainants through the provision of interim measures, and that in some cases, the University failed to take action to identify and eliminate a potential hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, or address its effects for individual complainants or the broader campus community. Pepper also found examples of actions by University administrators that directly discouraged complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes, or that contributed to or accommodated a hostile environment. In one instance, those actions constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault. In addition to broader University failings, Pepper found specific failings within both the football program and Athletics Department leadership, including a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player, to take action in response to reports of asexual assault by multiple football players, and to take action in response to a report of dating violence. Pepper's findings also reflect significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor's football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of athlete misconduct."

Briles' 50 wins in the past five seasons, his spectacular offenses, his unvarnished Texas charm – none of them matter enough to overcome what was laid out by Pepper Hamilton. It helped him camouflage the garbage that was unfolding off the field, helped seduce the school and the fans into not wanting to know what machinations were occurring behind the curtain. But in the end, when the victims' stories kept coming out, even the coach who lifted up a downtrodden program in a state that loves football too much had to go.

Former Baylor president Ken Starr (AP)
Former Baylor president Ken Starr (AP)

It should all be enough to make Baylor alums ashamed and angry, but even that might not be sufficient emotional outrage. Because when you consider what Baylor had been through just more than a decade ago, this entire chapter is doubly sickening.

Bears basketball player Patrick Dennehy was murdered by his teammate, Carlton Dotson, in June 2003. Part of the fallout from that horrific event was a cover-up of NCAA violations by head coach Dave Bliss, which included slandering his deceased player to investigators. Until the Sandusky scandal broke at Penn State, the Baylor basketball case stood alone and unquestioned as the most unseemly episode in college sports history.

Among the sanctions from that black period was the full suspension of Baylor basketball for the non-conference portion of the 2005-06 season. That was a huge NCAA penalty, and the stain upon the school was deep.

But apparently not deep enough to prevent another appalling scandal not too many years later.

It is an astounding religious hypocrisy for a school that proudly flaunts its Baptist underpinnings to have not one but two of the worst athletic scandals of the 21st century unfold on its campus. For all Baylor wants to stand for, it appears utterly fraudulent.

Maybe now, with the impending dismissal of Art Briles and the demotion of Ken Starr, the school can begin mending its tattered dignity.

 

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