The NCAA’s Ruling in the Baylor Sexual Assault Case Proves Once Again That Major Reform is Needed
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More than five years after the scandal first came to light, the NCAA concluded their investigation into the Baylor football program. Based on violations related to impermissible benefits and improper recruiting practices involving a female hostess group, the NCAA’s infractions committee placed Baylor on probation for the next four seasons and imposed minor recruiting restrictions against the program. For allegations that some felt deserved the “Death Penalty” back in 2016, the punishment handed down acts as a slap on the wrist. Before getting into the mishandling by the NCAA, I want to point out that I think it’s great that the current coaches and players on Baylor’s roster won’t have to suffer for wrongdoings they had no part of. Head Coach, Dave Aranda, is entering his second season in Waco and is the third head football coach the school has employed since 2016. In addition, many of the players were in middle school when the events took place. Therefore, it’s completely understandable and good that the 2021 Baylor Bears will get to compete for championships this Fall. However, the fact that many who were directly involved in the allegations are getting off scotch free from the NCAA highlights major issues that need to be addressed moving forward.
Before diving in, I want to share my utmost sympathy for the victims involved in this case. There have been reports of the physical and mental pain this scandal has caused on these women’s lives, and we should not lose sight of that while talking about sports law. However, because of this, the people most at fault should’ve been held accountable for their actions. An outside investigation back in 2016 showed that the program responded to the allegations with indifference or hostility towards the alleged victims. Furthermore, the victims were reportedly found to have been intimidated or discouraged from reporting attacks to protect the integrity of the football team, which at the time was in the midst of one of it’s most successful stretches in program history. Art Briles (Head Coach), Ian McCaw (Athletic Director), and Ken Starr (University President) all lost their jobs when the scandal broke back in 2016.
However, with the NCAA’s investigation concluding this week, it is evident that they will not enforce any punishment on them individually at all. The Infractions Committee Panel released that “Baylor admitted to moral and ethical failing in its handling of sexual and interpersonal violence on campus but argued those failing, however egregious, did not constitute violations of NCAA rules.” With this statement, the NCAA essentially is admitting their current rules are not strong enough to maintain firm control over college athletics. While there have recently been countless examples of the NCAA laying down the law on student athletes who accepted money for memorabilia (Pre-NIL) and programs who allegedly committed recruiting violations, this obvious predatory culture at Baylor under Art Briles and Ian McCaw drew no individual punishment, postseason ban, or scholarship losses.
Following the ruling, Art Briles’ attorney released a statement claiming that his client was “completely exonerated” and that “the NCAA’s decision clears Mr. Briles to return to coaching college football.” Whether or not a university will decide to hire Briles in the future is one thing, but he shouldn’t be able to get the chance. He coached high school football in Texas over the last few years, and there was even speculation that Texas Tech was interesting in hiring him this past December. The former Athletic Director, Ian McCaw, has since been hired by Liberty University in the same role. The reality that these two men avoided punishment from the NCAA and continue to have the opportunity to work in college athletics doesn’t feel right at all.
Whether or not the NCAA had a specific rule pertaining to the case or not, if they can’t come down hard on the Baylor Sexual Assault case, then what are they really here for? The NCAA states their purpose is “to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.” However, their ruling on Wednesday contradicts everything about that mission statement. Several women were used and neglected by the Baylor football program and have suffered tremendous pain because of it. Yet the people involved didn’t face any form of discipline from the NCAA. Quite frankly, it puts women at risk moving forward. Coaches and athletic departments are so focused on wins and losses these days to where stuff that happened at Baylor could be overlooked. I hope this sparks conversation for change when it comes to the oversight of college athletics. People have slammed the NCAA for their lack of foresight lately, but this ruling might be the worst of them all.