No team in America wants to play a football game more than the Baylor Bears, whose 2015 motto is “Baylor Football: Can We Change the Subject?”
On Monday, coach Art Briles met the media for the first time since he denied knowing anything about the controversial handling of Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu, who was convicted of raping a Baylor soccer player.
Kudos to Briles, his players and the staff for sticking to the script in this, the first week of the college football season. Briles said an investigation by President Ken Starr is good, the players aren’t thinking about it, and the athletic director is in full support of Starr.
While everybody who spoke Monday was polite in the face of a difficult scenario, this incident is going to leave a scar on Briles and the program that will take years to remove.
It also means Baylor is big-time. You aren’t big-time until you have a nasty scandal on your résumé, and this certainly qualifies as Baylor’s arrival on the national scene.
Despite their relationship with the Baptist Church and the self-righteous statements of morality that come from such an affiliation, in the end BU is no different than USC, Miami, Texas, TCU, Oklahoma, Auburn, Alabama or any other big-time program that got popped.
Monday’s news conference was mostly a primer for BU’s opener Friday at SMU, in which the Bears are favored by 136 points. Sorry, that’s just 36 points. Why is anyone talking about Baylor at SMU? Can’t it just be played on a video game console?
Only three questions about the Ukwuachu case were directed at Briles, one from the Waco Tribune, the other from the Dallas Morning News and one from me (back pat).
The point is no one at Baylor or in Waco wants to hear anything more about this case. It is just another example that when the football team is winning, absolutely no one in town wants to get in the way of the fun train.
I asked Briles if he felt criticism from people such as me aimed at him and his program was warranted and justified.
“As you get older, everybody is entitled to an opinion. I’ve never tried to tell anybody what to think or how to think,” Briles said. “I’ve tried to live in a fashion that makes [people] think a certain way. That’s been the same way with our program.”
In doing so, a lot of people love and respect this man because he is polite, courteous and respectful in a way that harkens back to a different era. He is a good man with a good family. Living in that fashion makes people think a certain way about him.
He also wins football games and, in Texas, there is nothing that fashions favorable impressions like a winning record.
The flip side is that he has pushed the envelope on certain kids in the name of winning, which now includes keeping a defensive end on his team who had been indicted.
That fashions how people see him in a certain way, too.
We all are comprised of different colors, and like nearly every other major Division I coach, some of the shades on Briles’ rainbow are not bright and shiny. Some shades are darker than others.
Even if Briles did not know about Ukwuachu’s history of domestic violence at Boise State, allowing him to remain on scholarship with the intent of playing on the team after the rape indictment in Waco while his victim left school is the saddest reality of all.
I asked Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw if, in hindsight, Baylor simply failed one of its own.
“I would say that I am supportive of President Starr calling for an external investigation,” he said.
I rephrased it and admitted that failure is too strong of a word (it’s not). Could more have been done to prevent such an outcome?
“I need to just say at this point I am supportive of President Starr and and the external investigation,” he said.
I could have asked him what time it was and I would have received the same answer.
Bravo, Baylor lawyers, your clients said nothing. These lawyers have much to worry about, namely preparing a defense against a lawsuit that will likely be filed by Ukwuachu’s victim. And by “preparing a defense” I mean writing a massive check.
This case will shadow Baylor for the duration of the 2015 season regardless of how few questions are asked of Briles at news conferences. That’s what happens when a scandal occurs.
When people outside of Waco and Baylor talk Baylor football, this is going to come up again and again.
However you spin it, this is on the school, and its most prized employee, Art Briles.
For decades, Baylor has wanted nothing more than to be good at football, and now the Bears are rolling. They have a big-time coach. They have big-time bowl appearances. They sell T-shirts that say Big 12 champions.
Now they are caked in a scandal that has everyone associated with the football team all asking the same thing: “Can we change the subject?”
Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.