UPDATE: On Monday evening at approximately 7 p.m. CT, Dave Bliss announced his resignation as the head basketball coach at Southwestern Christian University. The announcement is three days after Showtime aired the documentary “Disgraceful” about the 2003 scandal at Baylor when Bliss was the basketball coach for the Bears.
The most haunting part of the new Showtime documentary “Disgraced” comes in the final moments when one of the key figures associated in the Baylor men’s basketball scandal in 2003 says:
“Everyone is pointing the finger at Carlton Dotson. Carlton Dotson wasn’t your cancer. He is a by-product of your cancer. If Baylor University doesn’t at some point in time respond to requests for interviews and answer questions forthright concerning what was going on with that program, the cancer’s always going to be there and it’s going to resurface. If you don’t get it all, it will come back.”
Dotson was the BU basketball player who shot and killed Baylor teammate Patrick Dennehy in 2003.
Director Pat Kondelis interviewed all of the major figures from this ordeal that essentially ended the career of then BU coach Dave Bliss, and put the basketball team on NCAA probation. The only figures Kondelis was unable to land were none of the Baylor administrators from that time period, and Dotson.
The film is an arresting examination of the tragedy, raises several questions about why Dotson was declared competent before he was sent to prison, and hangs Bliss out for the fraud that he was, and remains.
Since resigning from Baylor, Bliss re-surfaced as as the Bible-quoting head coach at Southwestern Christian University in Oklahoma. He always knows what to say, and how to say it, it’s the other part that has been the problem.
His involvement in the scandal at BU was anchored in paying Dennehy’s way at Baylor when he didn’t have a scholarship to give the 6-foot-9 transfer from the University of New Mexico. Around the time of Dennehy’s disappearance, Bliss and Baylor were being questioned by the NCAA, specifically how Dennehy was paying to attend Baylor, among other potential infractions.
Bliss has conducted interviews about this scandal before, and agreed to participate in the documentary. Kondelis told the Star-Telegram’s Cary Darling that he believes the only reason Bliss agreed to be interviewed was because he has a new memoir out.
Infamously, Bliss painted the deceased as a drug dealer who used the money to pay his own way. More than a decade later, Bliss admits to paying for Dennehy but insists the power forward was a drug dealer, even though there is no evidence to suggest he was.
Bliss’ plan to avoid NCAA penalty came undone when an assistant, Abar Rouse, recorded conversations with his head coach that exposed it all. Rouse, who was essentially blackballed from the profession, participated in the documentary and has no trouble in crushing Bliss.
Few should. This is a duplicitous man who says one thing, and may even believe the religious rhetoric spewing from his mouth, but can’t help and practice a few things that are counter to the message.
Bliss is charming and a good basketball coach, but he is no different than so many who get lost in the profession — winning the next game is simply the priority. The reality about Bliss is that he was a decent coach who needed to cheat, a lot, in order to be a good coach. He was not good enough not to cheat.
He had players paid when he was the head coach at SMU in the 1980s, and there were all sorts of unflattering stories about similar activity when he was the long-time coach at New Mexico. When he left UNM for Baylor, it was because of a giant raise but he quickly ran into the same problem so many coaches do in difficult jobs where winning isn’t the norm: Attracting real players is difficult.
Exceptions had to be made, corners had to be cut, and allowances had to be granted in order to land players who could make shots and defend Big 12 opponents. This was at a time when Baylor was stuck at the bottom of the conference and was desperate to be competitive in a revenue sport.
It’s not that much different than when Baylor’s football program turned around under coach Art Briles.
Bliss is not the first coach to figure out a way to acquire a player and have his schooling paid for when he was out of scholarships. He’s certainly not the first coach to suppress a drug test, or five. He’s not the first coach to pay players. He’s not the first coach to ignore academic minimums.
How Dave Bliss separated himself from the rest is to blame the deceased for his own unethical behaviors, and continue at least a portion of the charade more than a decade later. That is disgraceful.
Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.