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It’s Time to Walk Away from Baylor Sports

Baylor University's athletic department is having a banner winter. Its football team, two years removed from a 1-11 season, finished 11-3 and made appearances in both the Big 12 Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl. Its men's basketball team is No. 1 in the country, according to the Associated Press Top 25, and its defending national champion women's team is ranked No. 2. 

The house that Art Briles built
The house that Art Briles built

The Baptist school from Waco is an all-sports powerhouse, thanks in no small part to its athletic fundraising base, and its alumni couldn't be happier. Some of Dallas' most powerful people, including County Judge Clay Jenkins and U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, Baylor alums both, are fans. 

They should be ashamed.

Baylor's athletic program, like its cousins in State College, Pennsylvania, and East Lansing, Michigan, should be banned from the NCAA for a pattern of behavior that would make a crime family blush.

In 2003, Baylor basketball player Carlton Dotson shot and killed his teammate, Patrick Dennehy. During the investigation that followed, Baylor basketball coach Dave Bliss told members of the team and his coaching staff to smear Dennehy after his death by telling investigators that Dennehy sold drugs to cover the portion of his tuition not covered by scholarship.

Bliss was trying to save his own NCAA hide. He'd made the payments on Dennehy's behalf. Bliss got caught anyway and was hit with a 10-year show cause penalty, meaning that, anytime he applied for a job with a NCAA-member school over the next decade, he'd have to prove why he should be allowed to take the job, despite his NCAA violations.

Baylor's men's basketball program was penalized with a probationary period that lasted through 2010, which included a one-season ban from nonconference play and years of recruiting restrictions. The scandal was a monumental disgrace for the university, but it's not even why we're here.

Rooting for Baylor — or supporting its athletic program in any way, really — shouldn't be an acceptable thing, because the university sold its soul to a football program gone wild.

Heading into the 2008 season, Baylor hadn't played in a bowl for more than a decade. Since moving to the Big 12 from the Southwest Conference, Baylor found itself struggling to compete, let alone make an appearance on the national stage.

Then came head coach Art Briles and his high-powered offense. After two rebuilding years, Briles, with a little help from Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III, put Baylor on the map, playing in six straight bowls and making multiple appearances in the top five of the AP poll.

The cost for the university's football success was extraordinarily high.

Two players from Briles' teams — Tevin Elliot and Sam Ukwuachu — have been convicted of sexual assault. Elliot, accused of sexual assault by at least five women, received a 20-year sentence in 2014. Ukwuachu's conviction was reversed by Texas' 10th Court of Appeals in 2019 and is currently under review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

In addition to the cases that have gone to trial, 17 women reported 19 sexual assaults, including four gang rapes, by Baylor athletes between 2011 and 2014, some of the school's most successful years under Briles, the university told the Wall Street Journal . A civil suit filed against the university in 2017 alleges that at least 31 football players committed at least 52 rapes over the same period.

Baylor fired Briles and demoted university President Ken Starr for their roles in the scandal in May 2016. Starr resigned from the university later that year and is now a member of President Donald Trump's impeachment defense team.

"Baylor failed to take appropriate action to respond to reports of sexual assault and dating violence reportedly committed by football players," a report commissioned by the university from the law firm Pepper Hamilton found in 2016. "The choices made by football staff and athletics leadership, in some instances, posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University. In certain instances, including reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, athletics and football personnel affirmatively chose not to report sexual violence and dating violence to an appropriate administrator outside of athletics."

There's an old Jerry Seinfeld bit about how sports fandom is, essentially, rooting for laundry. It comes in handy when fans are dealing with the latest off-the-field transgression made by one of their mercenary heroes. The big difference with Baylor is that the university was in on it. Not because they were a pro-sports franchise looking to turn a profit, but because the school's academic and athletic leadership was willing to sacrifice the safety of its female students at the altar of Art Briles, the man who brought them their shiny new stadium on the Brazos.

Baylor is still benefiting from looking the other way as Briles did his thing. The coach who replaced Briles, Matt Rhule, was still able to recruit successfully and parlayed three seasons at the school into an NFL head coaching gig with the Carolina Panthers. When Baylor needed to replace Rhule this month, it was able to hire LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, a coach who wouldn't have sniffed at the Bears during the bad old days. The new stadium was full all season — alumni and fans clearly aren't holding the scandal against the school.

These aren't recruiting violations we're talking about. SMU had its athletic department destroyed for being a little too brazen about paying players who should've been getting paid anyway. If Baylor had leveraged all of that Southern Baptist cash it rakes in into becoming a national powerhouse, it would've been amusing, more than anything.

Baylor didn't get into NCAA trouble, because acting as a protection racket for what was, essentially, a criminal gang isn't under the organization's purview. Doesn't make the laundry any less dirty.

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