An astonishing move on the public-relations front that would devastate the school’s national reputation for years to come could be unfolding today in Waco.
Based on multiple published reports, Baylor regents will vote tonight on whether to bring back football coach Art Briles for the 2017 season after having him serve a one-year suspension for the upcoming season.
The meeting, confirmed this morning by sources who spoke with two different Waco television stations (KWTX-TV and KCEN-TV), also has been reported by Chip Brown of Horns Digest and USA Today, among other outlets.
The USA Today report indicated the vote is unlikely to result in any action regarding Briles, who was suspended in May with “intent to terminate” by Baylor regents amid the controversy of the school’s handling of rape allegations involving football players.
But the KCEN-HD report cited “an unbelievable amount of pressure on the board” from influential boosters who seek Briles’ reinstatement, as well as indications that players have been told about plans to “suspend Briles” rather than dismiss him permanently. In a Tweet posted this morning by Dallas Morning News reporter Chuck Carlton, Baylor booster Bob Simpson, a co-owner of the Texas Rangers, addressed the impending meeting with the board. In regard to Briles’ possible return, Simpson said: “We don’t know yet. We’d like to see that.”
Regardless of a person’s rooting interest in the college football world, a return to the Briles era in Waco simply cannot happen in the wake of the Pepper Hamilton report that addressed rape allegations involving football players and cited instances of inappropriate responses to those actions by Baylor administrators and individuals within the football program.
Nothing short of a thorough, sweeping change that removes all principals tainted by the ongoing saga will suffice for the long-haul in the court of public opinion if Baylor hopes to recapture its reputation as a school that cares about the welfare of all students on campus more than its won-loss record on the football field. And recapturing that reputation, in the long run, is far more important than winning football games to the long-term health and well-being of a university.
At present, the three most-visible individuals attached to the rape saga within the football program are no longer in power. That needs to remain the status quo if Baylor wants to put this ongoing PR nightmare in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible.
On May 26, Baylor regents reassigned school president Ken Starr, suspended Briles with intent to terminate and put athletic director Ian McCaw on probation in the wake of the Pepper Hamilton report. McCaw resigned as AD on May 30 after announcing the hiring of Jim Grobe, 64, as the school’s acting football coach, effective immediately.
Starr’s duties are now limited to law professor, which takes him out of the loop in regard to policy-making decisions. Briles also is out of the loop, which is where he needs to remain as Baylor seeks to heal from damage done by the unsavory deeds of players and program underlings that occurred on his watch, per the Pepper Hamilton report.
The Baylor basketball program eventually rebounded from the national embarrassment of the coach Dave Bliss era that included multiple NCAA rules violations and the 2003 murder of one Baylor player (Patrick Dennehy) by a teammate (Carlton Dotson) because the school broke ties with those involved in the improper acts and charted a fresh course led by fresh faces.
To do anything less than that with the football program at this point would be a disservice to the reputation a school that has produced legions of productive and influential members of society since it was founded in 1845.
In the grand scheme of things, the Baylor name will not be tarnished by a few bad football seasons. But compromising basic school principles in the name of football success would leave a scar that is hard to explain or accept to most citizens, including lots of Baylor graduates.