Mac Engel

NCAA’s Baylor investigation should be over. Now it may restart with independent review

A ruling by the NCAA after a lengthy investigation into Baylor University’s athletic department was supposed to be announced by the end of the summer, but the process may be pushed back to the beginning as part of a new procedure that changes the way investigations are conducted.

According to sources, in early August the NCAA informed Baylor that it may send its case to its newly created “independent adjudicative authority.”

This is a new form of rule and enforcement that is clear of the traditional NCAA’s Committee on Infractions that previously decided cases involving potential rules violations.

The NCAA opened an investigation into Baylor’s athletic department in June 2017 after the sexual assault scandal that led to the firing of football coach Art Briles in May 2016, and the eventual resignation of president Ken Starr.

In September 2018, it sent Baylor a “notice of allegations,” with charges against Briles and a “lack of institutional control” on the part of administrators.

Sources familiar with the process felt the case would be resolved in the spring of 2019, and then, at the latest, the summer.

On Aug. 1, the NCAA announced a new “Independent Accountability Resolution Process.” This was created after the recommendations were made by the Commission on College Basketball, which was chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

The NCAA formed the commission after four coaches were arrested in 2017 in connection with the college basketball corruption scandal.

What this latest development means for Baylor is the entire case would be investigated and handled by an independent group as selected by the NCAA. Among the potential candidates to review complex cases, such as Baylor, are a consortium of mostly law firms that will act as “advocates” and “investigators.”

As far as a timeline, the school may know within the next 30 days if its case will be relegated to this new means of adjudication.

The other wrinkle to this new process is that when a ruling is made, there is no appeal. Whatever decision is made will be final.

This new “independent resolution panel” will review the allegations from the complex case unit, the school’s response, and issues penalties after the hearing.

The NCAA created this for a more independent approach to handling high profile, complex cases of potential infractions and enforcement. It was essentially created by the NCAA to handle the cases that are coming up in men’s basketball, including, most recently, the potential infractions allegedly committed by the University of Kansas.

Per sources, the NCAA hired the firms to investigate the most complex instances so the people doing the work won’t have direct roles, or titles, with the NCAA or its member schools.

One of the firms contracted to handle such cases is run by former FBI director Louis Freeh, who led the investigation into Penn State University during the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Freeh’s firm would not handle the Baylor case. He has ties to former Baylor President Ken Starr. Freeh had been the managing partner of the law firm of Pepper Hamilton, which was hired by Baylor to investigate the athletic department in 2015-16.

Not long after Briles was fired, Baylor implemented 105 measures and hired staffers to be compliant with Title IX reporting and handling procedures.

Virtually all of the major figures from this ordeal have moved to different jobs, retired, or cycled out of their prominent roles on the Baylor board of regents.

Whenever a ruling is made, the NCAA could potentially punish a host of Baylor employees, coaches and administrators who had nothing to do with the school when the infractions were committed.

A handful of new Baylor employees desire a ruling and a conclusion to this case so they can deal with it and move on. Others within the university take a different view and, while they desire a conclusion, will fight it out through lawyers.

Sources familiar with the NCAA and its investigative process said the organization looks favorably at departments that cooperate during an investigation. As to whether Baylor officials have been compliant in this may no longer matter.

If the NCAA chooses to start all over again, a case that should be resolved is reborn with the reality that when a ruling is made it will finally be final.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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