What happened at Baylor was a systematic failure from top to bottom. There does not seem to be a great amount of room to debate otherwise. I wish I could say I was shocked to read the details described in the Pepper Hamilton external review of Baylor’s institutional response to Title IX and other compliance issues, but that was not the case. Disgusted? Absolutely. Shocked? Nope.
My lack of shock is not a reflection on my opinions of Baylor, but a somber reminder that nothing really surprises me anymore when we discuss college football and what is happening off the field. It is sickening we still have issues like this polluting the game off the field, but it is not just Baylor where we are seeing stuff like this. For me, personally, I moved on from being naive when it comes to college football when the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke at Penn State, leading to the firing of Joe Paterno. If Joe Paterno, a man who preached “Success with Honor” for decades and was always praised for doing things the right way, could fall shy to any degree of acting responsibly, as did those surrounding him at the university, then I was no longer going to believe any other coach will ever be holier than thou again.
On Thursday, Baylor’s board of regents revealed some of the key findings from the Pepper Hamilton report, and needless to say they were quite damning in nature. Baylor coaches were reported to be meeting with sexual violence victims to conduct internal investigations that violated university policy, thus protecting Baylor football players in the process and voiding any chance for a fair investigation by the university. Baylor coaches were reported to try and flex some muscle with the administration to keep discipline within the program, again shielding Baylor players accused of sexual violence from more severe action from the university. Baylor’s culture within the football program was putting winning games ahead of anything and everything. Baylor is hardly the first program to stoop to that kind of logic, nor will they be the last. I feel very confident in saying that. Something like this will happen again, and when it does I am just as sure there will be any number of sportswriters putting together columns suggesting School X is a prime example of a misguided culture that emphasizes a win-at-all-costs attitude.
And that is just silly, and lazy. The idea that Baylor is the new textbook example of such a thing is short-sighted and lacks perspective. The win-at-all-costs attitude has always existed in college football. The sport is as corrupt as any. It always has been, and likely always will. From players being paid and being given extra benefits to coaches covering up crimes of various degrees of severity, corruption for the sake of keeping a program moving forward and winning games has always been a part of the game we love. We have just come to accept many forms of that corruption over time.
Nobody bats an eye lash at news a player is accepting extra benefits. Instead, they are often applauded for sticking it to the NCAA policies prohibiting being able to be paid for play. When something like what happened at Penn State or Baylor comes up though, it is suddenly a much more severe situation and the takes come to a boil. That’s because the corruption in the game is now affecting others not associated with the program. At Penn State it was the young victims of Jerry Sandusky. At Baylor it was women suffering the sexual abuse of Baylor student-athletes. When innocent lives are put in harm’s way, we take notice of the corrupt state of a program.
And nobody is going to suggest the events that took place at Baylor should be kept in the same perspective as Laremy Tunsil getting money from a coach. That would be in poor taste. Just bringing up those kinds of incidents to further slam a program like Baylor is pointless, because nobody would refute the argument. But that doesn’t make what happens elsewhere right or mean it is OK.
Violations of NCAA rules should be disciplined, even if you do not believe the rule is fair. What happened at Baylor was not fair to many known and unknown victims. Baylor impeded some serious Title IX procedures and may face further action from not just the NCAA, but the United States government. In time, we will understand just how much this will harm Baylor. Make no mistake about it, it should harm Baylor. At the same time, it is also important to realize and respect the fact there are many good people at Baylor.
So, what will happen to Baylor? Just as it was five years ago with Penn State, the hot takes have been coming hot and heavy at Baylor. The two situations are not all that unlike one another. The universities each paid to have an external review of its procedures done by a third party, and each report came back with an outline suggesting the school had people going around the policies and procedures to benefit the football program. The Freeh Report has been broken down and dismantled by some over the years while the author of the report, Louis Freeh, continues to have his work discredited time and time again. Time will tell if the same can be said about the thorough report shared by Baylor. What we do know is the Big 12 is not going to kick Baylor out of the conference, Baylor is going to play football this fall and Baylor will continue to play football for the foreseeable future.
For now, it remains a question if the NCAA will once again get involved with the Baylor scandal.
The NCAA will undoubtedly take a look at this, but there is no chance the Baylor program receives a death sentence or has the football program shut down for a season. Taking the football program away for any amount of time simply hurts too many not involved with the scandal. Baylor’s innocent players would be hurt. Baylor’s 12 innocent opponents would be losing out on games and revenue. And yes, I see the irony in criticizing a win-at-all costs sport catering to football programs that would be taking a financial hit with the loss of a game here and there, but there is simply no way to go about stripping 12 games off the schedule across 12 programs with so little time to arrange for replacement games. If the NCAA does anything to punish the football program, a postseason ban would be the much more likely route.
I am sick and tired of seeing college football tarnished by such acts as we saw at Baylor. I want schools and programs to succeed. I love a good turnaround story, as it appeared was happening at Baylor. I am all for giving players a second chance depending on the situation. Mistakes happen. We learn from them and move on. When the lessons do not sink in, as appeared to be the case at Baylor, is when I get mad. Unfortunately, these stories will never be put to rest. They will continue. In a matter of weeks, we may be talking about a new sexual or domestic violence crime connected to a college football player. At some point, another program will come under fire for covering up information. It is bound to happen.
I still love college football. I’ll still watch it and enjoy every minute of it. I will just do so knowing that something wrong is going on somewhere and someone is looking for a way to keep that information behind closed doors, and there is nothing standing in the way of stopping that from happening. We can make all the calls for change and reform when this stuff comes up, but there will always be some secrecy that sneaks around any intent to do better.
We are like Rocky Balboa and tragic tales of deception and wrongdoing in college football are Apollo Creed. We take the punches and still come back for more, and we’ll continue to do so expecting something to be different. It never will.