Late last month, it seemed that Baylor University had done what it had to do. Following revelations of a football culture that seemingly stymied victims of sexual assault by football players, the school removed former Clinton prosecutor Ken Starr from his role as president of the university and suspended football coach Art Briles. At the time, the university presented Briles' suspension as a step toward termination.
The coach is being punished for standing idly by as sexual assault accusations against members of his squad piled up. When two of his players were sent to prison for sexual assaults, it seemed the only reason he wasn't fired on the spot was because the university was doing what it needed to do contractually.
But early this week rumblings began that Briles' tenure might not be over. A group of powerful football boosters, the guys who prompted the university to build a $300 million stadium in 2014, are reportedly itching to bring Briles back.
The game now is to guess if he'll stay or go. Before you play, here are some points to consider.
1. Boosters love Briles because he wins.
This is the obvious one. If Art Briles merely had a very good coaching record, he would be out on his ass without a second thought. Even if he had a great coaching record at a different school, he would be out on his ass. But Briles is neither of those things. He's a coach with a great coaching record at Baylor, a school that's always had an inferiority complex.
Baylor is a very good academic school, coming in at No. 71 in the latest U.S. News rankings, but has never been very good at the major revenue sports, namely football and men's basketball. Baylor's location in Waco and its reputation for a strict moral code (the school only allowed on-campus dancing in 1996) make it an unattractive destination for many undergrads.
Briles overcame those hurdles to turn a longtime Southwest and Big 12 Conference doormat into a team that competed for national titles, played in major bowl games and got to debut some of Nike's flashiest athletic threads. Beginning with Robert Griffin III's Heisman Trophy-winning 2011 season, Baylor alums have been able to hold their heads up high when they talk football. These former regent supporters include Bob Simpson, co-owner of the Texas Rangers, and Gale Galloway, who called Briles' potential removal "heartbreaking" and an "overreaction."
2. This is not the first sign of Briles' bad judgement.
For Baylor to get talent, it has to recruit outside the mainstream of college sports. Sometimes, like with the undersized Griffin, that's fine. It can also go horribly wrong. Patrick Dennehy, a former-New Mexico basketball player who transferred to Baylor during Dave Bliss' successful on-court stretch in 2003, was shot and killed by teammate Carlton Dotson, who transferred to Baylor from Paris Junior College in 2002.
Similarly, Briles recruited Sam Ukwuachu after he was kicked off Boise State University's football team for an undisclosed reason. Last fall, Ukwuachu was convicted of sexual assault. Junior college players and castoffs from other programs can help build winners quickly, but there is often a reason that those players are available in the first place. So those wins came at a price, and the Board of Regents may not be eager to pay.
3. Getting rid of Briles will cost Baylor a ton.
Baylor gave Briles a 10-year $40 million contract extension in 2013. This happened after a public flirtation between Briles and the University of Texas over a head coaching job there. If Baylor dumps Briles without contractual cause, it owes him the rest of the money on the deal. That's $28 million.
The Pepper Hamilton law firm report, compiled at the behest of the school, claims his program tried to intimidate and silence sexual assault victims. But whether this means Briles violated his contract is likely a matter for the courts. While the terms of Briles' contract are not public, contracts for major college football coaches typically have a morals clause which protects a university from having its reputation harmed by the coach. Even so, should Briles be canned, the school might spare the expense of a court battle and settle for a tidy sum.
4. His biggest supporters are not in charge of his fate.
While Simpson and other former regents are making noise to keep him, those with the power to do so have been quiet. Baylor's Board of Regents discussed Briles' status at a Monday meeting, but there wasn't a vote taken on his employment status, the school says. Neither the current board of regents nor Baylor Interim President David Garland have shown any indication that they might be willing to bring Briles back after any amount of time or under any conditions. That seems to favor the theory that the Board of Regents hasn't finalized axing Briles, but it's going to happen.
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