In what has quickly become a lost season, the best piece of news for the Baylor football team came not from the scoreboard but rather the single most useless, toothless organization in sports.
Per The Wall Street Journal, the NCAA has notified the school it will not be levying any sweeping penalties against the Baylor football team for its part in a rape scandal that has fractured the entire school.
As an organization, the NCAA has come full circle just in Texas alone between two private schools 100 miles apart. In 1986, the NCAA levied the death penalty against SMU for a lack of institutional control and, nearly 30 years later, will do just about nothing for a similar lack of control at Baylor.
The precedent set by the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State — where the NCAA levied serious penalties only to retract them — made this reality possible.
Ironically, the NCAA will just investigate whether Baylor football players received impermissible benefits — the very sin SMU was busted for doing.
Let me help you out: They did, because they all do everywhere.
This purposeless investigation from the NCAA is a divine gift that Baylor should take full advantage of, but it won’t because it’s Baylor. Baylor does not require the death penalty — which will never be levied again — because Baylor is killing itself.
As talk of “unity” and “coming together” floods our eardrums in wake of the presidential election, so too it should at Baylor. The only chance the school has for unity is for the new head coach to stop the shredding of That Good Old Baylor Line.
From the #CoachArtBriles movement to the other bitter disillusioned Briles loyalists, or the other alums’ piercing rhetoric pointed at each other and the leadership, Baylor’s Bear remains on a cutting board.
“The fact of the matter is this: Art Briles is not coming back as our head coach,” Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades told ESPN Central Texas Radio. “We need to be focused on, hey, we’re going to do everything we can to hire a great new football coach. And, again, as we move forward and progress, continue to have compassion for the people we’ve hurt, and we’ve certainly done that, but, you know, we need to move forward.”
Add ousted Baylor president Ken Starr to the list of those with a serrated knife.
Starr, who was fired in May, is working on a book, Bear Country, about his time at Baylor.
I have no idea who will read this beyond Baylor alums, but while Starr did not agree to an interview just yet, he was kind enough to share the final, unedited chapter of the book.
“I was being fired as president,” Starr writes about the end of his tenure in May. “I had run out of bullets, I was informed. … The Regents had decided. I was told their decision was unanimous. That came as a complete shock, a tummy punch.”
Starr writes this was not the first time the Baylor board of regents wanted him out; there were others, too, who deeply damaged the trust between various administrators and powerful alums. Trust the details will be far nastier, albeit eloquently stated, when the full text is released.
Also in this knife-wielding list is a new group of alumni calling themselves “Bears for Leadership Reform,” which is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. Thursday in Waco. The group’s intention is to “restore integrity to the world’s largest Baptist university.”
This is not some small collection of angry fans but rather serious heavy hitters, including all-mighty powerful alum Drayton McLane, a Baylor regent emeritus, and the man for whom the football stadium is named. They are mad at the board for its handling of this scandal, and this group could potentially serve as a power wash of the administration.
And there is no mention of the many Title IX and sexual assault lawsuits the school is dealing with as well.
At the very least, all of this noise will continue to drag out this scandal that has exposed the school’s fractured and dysfunctional leadership to any prospective new coach.
As long as the power brokers remain in place at Baylor — most notably chief financial officer Reagan Ramsower — the new coach will know the leadership does not have the full support of the school.
It’s pathetic and yet another example of misplaced priorities, but the only person who can fix Baylor is a winning football coach.
For Baylor to truly move forward from this, it must fall into another Briles … minus the blinders.
The success at both TCU and Baylor has undoubtedly demonstrated that football affects morale at the campuses more than any other facet of those institutions of “higher learning.”
That is why firing Briles was so difficult but ultimately necessary. While the issue of ignored sexual assaults at Baylor was a campus-wide problem, it existed on the football team as well.
And when the football program is responsible for a sad proportion of a school’s morale, marketing and publicity, there is no division between the team and the university. Sexual assault can’t just be a “campus problem” when the same issues existed on the football team as well.
The passionate disagreements and the fallout of this ordeal continue to fracture the entire university.
“I think we’ll be in a position to hire a really great football coach,” Rhoades told ESPN Central Texas. “But we also need Baylor Nation to move forward and focus on our student-athletes and focus on the future and get behind whoever we hire.”
In its attempt to move forward, the best news for Baylor is that the NCAA will not bring the pain, because that organization really can’t anymore when it comes to football.
That should make attracting a quality coach considerably easier.
The bad news for Baylor is that it can’t stop inflicting pain on itself.
Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on KRLD 105.3 FM “The Fan.”