Mac Engel

The quickest way for Baylor to repair its image

Matt Rhule’s first fall practices at Baylor began last week, and the first thing he needs to do for his employer is lose.

Lose big.

Or lose by a small number. Throw in a loss to Kansas. Maybe lose by a safety as time expires at Texas Tech.

Who knows? Maybe Rhule can be creative — Baylor has the ball at the other team’s 8-yard line with 4 seconds remaining in a tie game.

Instead of kicking the field goal, he should opt for a running play. The running back will fumble the ball and an opposing defender will pick it up and return it for a game-winning, 99-yard touchdown run.

Actually, in a season where Baylor needs to establish credibility, he should reject such an incredibly absurd option. No one could believe that scene could ever happen, even if it did in 1999 at Floyd Casey Stadium.

During a recent visit with Baylor fans at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, the consensus was that the Bears made a good hire in Rhule. The man has said every right word since accepting this impossible job, but it does not change Baylor’s perception problem.

There is but one way to truly fix the image of a school that was enhanced by a successful athletic department, and then damaged by it: Lose. In football. It would help if Scott Drew’s basketball team took a dive for a year or two as well.

As Baylor — and every other school crushed by a scandal — knows, the best way to smell good is to stink.

If Rhule’s first team manages to win eight or nine games, which in this Big 12 is highly plausible, the national perception will continue that Baylor learned nothing from a rape scandal that led to several settled lawsuits and the dismissal of every major figure from its athletic department.

It may not be entirely accurate or true, but that’s how these narratives are built and how they crawl, walk and run.

The truth always resides somewhere in the middle of these polar extremes.

In order for Baylor to truly restore its reputation as a faith-based school built on the principles and ethos of the Baptists, winning football games will have to become secondary. That means no more flirting with a spot in the College Football Playoff.

It means returning to the glory days of Kevin Steele or Dave Roberts.

Back when that good ol’ Baylor line consisted of a herd of freshmen who could not wait to escape Floyd Casey Stadium, and a fleet of senior citizens who enjoyed a game to fill an fall afternoon before they went to grab a Gut Pak.

That was well before the arrival of the Messiah, Art Briles, the construction of McLane Stadium and the successful building project of the north side of Baylor’s campus. That was all before Baylor football became a Top 25 power.

It was also before the school was linked to ignoring the claims of rape by its students. As a rule of thumb, that’s not good point of sale to Baylor parents.

The best thing for Baylor football is to be irrelevant. Not forever. Just for a season or two.

Losing is the only way to sell a story that Baylor regained its soul and “moral compass,” even if it is a load. Moral compasses tend to swing loose in big-time college athletics.

Baylor University needs credibility. Rhule saying “we need to treat women with respect” is appropriate and sounds good, but it won’t be as helpful as a 27-24 loss to the UT San Antonio Roadrunners in the second game of the season.

A 4-8 season will stink, but it comes with boosters and fans telling ESPN and every other media outlet, “We believe in Coach Rhule because we’re doing this the right way.”

All ye gather ’round the Google Search Engine: Ain’t none of ’em doin’ it the right way. It’s always a matter of degree.

If you are Baylor, just look at how Scott Drew and his basketball team fared after the Dave Bliss fiasco in 2003.

Hammered with NCAA sanctions, and the fact it was Baylor basketball, the team finished with a losing record in each of Drew’s first four seasons. After that, the Bears have not had a losing season and finished with a winning record in each of the last 10 years.

Baylor basketball has become a consistent member of the AP Top 25, the most consistent program in the state, and a national player in the NCAA Tournament.

The only problem is it that it’s basketball in a football state.

What drives traffic, donations, applications and enrollment is a good football team. There is a direct correlation to the rise in Baylor’s enrollment and donations to winning football games. There always is.

Baylor didn’t give Rhule a seven-year contract worth millions and millions to lose games.

In the long term, he won’t. But if Baylor wants to change its perception as a school that regained its soul, it should follow this golden rule: Just lose.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram