Does Baylor University Deserve the NCAA’s ‘Death Penalty’?
History — and unclear NCAA bylaws — says no.
Over the weekend, reports surfaced that accused Baylor University officials of using either blackmail or coercion to prevent rape victims from reporting their assaults. These revelations were followed by the school’s new President, David Garland, writing in an op-ed in the Waco-Tribune Herald, that “work to improve prevention, response and care for students” is currently underway and the University will “demonstrate a system that is supportive, responsive, fair and thorough in upholding students’ access to an education.” (Source)
Garland, who was appointed as President after former president Ken Starr was demoted back in May, went on to say that reporting incidents was a “brave and personal choice” and that the university would not prevent students from doing so, thanks in part to the “legal and moral responsibilities to all students involved in a report of sexual assault.”
What we’ve seen at Baylor University over the course of this year has been extraordinary. Last year, multiple women claimed that they were turned away by the university from reporting their sexual assaults thanks in part to the alleged perpetrators being football players for the school. It was later discovered that one of their players, Sam Ukwuachu , left his previous university due to rape allegations — he was later convicted of raping a fellow Baylor student — and that athletic officials met with victims and did not aid in the reports of assaults. Just recently, former defensive back, Sean Oakman, was arrested for sexual assault and an additional player, Tevin Elliot, was convicted of rape in 2014.
With the news of threats by university officials to cover of rapes by athletes, many on social media called for Baylor to get hit with the hardest penalty the NCAA offers, the venerable “Death Penalty”, which would ban Baylor University from college football.
While that seems noble and frankly understandable, there’s no precedent that says this could happen. The NCAA currently has no bylaws on the books allowing for this and after Penn State survived the Jerry Sandusky trial, Baylor would appear to be safe — for now.
What we’ve seen at Baylor University over the course of this year has been extraordinary.
The calls for the death penalty are understood. By all reports, including the infamous and damning report from Pepper Hamilton, Baylor, according to the latter report, “failed to take appropriate action to respond to reports of sexual assault and dating violence reportedly committed by football players.”
Baylor supported a culture that put athletic achievement over campus safety. So much so that they were allegedly willing to hide, amend or even stifle reports of sexual assaults in order to keep winning football games. Arguments could be made to say that Baylor were accessories to these crimes by sweeping them under the rug. When multiple football players are charged with the same crime, it’s no longer an “isolated incident”. It appears to be a culture problem. A culture problem that current football coach, Jim Grobe, said did not exist. (Source)
The school tried to enact their own death penalty of sorts, at least to its staff. Art Briles, football coach for eight years and winner of two Big 12 championships, was fired. As previously mentioned, their president was demoted to chancellor. Several members of the athletic department’s staff resigned including then athletic director Ian McCaw, who was first put on probation. They effectively cleaned house as much as possible.
Whether or not that’s enough to keep the NCAA at bay in still up in the air. The school was notified that the NCAA will investigate for any potential infractions and the school, in return, said that they would cooperate. In fact, Baylor did alert the NCAA of possible violations back in May.
Up to this point, the NCAA has left the University and the Big 12 Conference on their own to deal with the ramifications of the Pepper Hamilton report. Actually, the NCAA has refused to comment.
Many wonder what the sport’s highest governing body will do in response to these allegations. What we’re seeing is unprecedented and the NCAA doesn’t have any bylaws on the books to even address it. There are no rules that discuss athletic department misconduct outside of what the body is known to regulate: recruiting, pay-for-play, betting or likeness for sale. The NCAA does have the very broad set of bylaws that fall under “institutional control”. Many schools have been found in violation but again it’s for what the NCAA is known for.
The NCAA has only given out the “Death Penalty” five times in its history, Southern Methodist University being the only football program to take the hit. The “Death Penalty”, only in nickname, states that the NCAA has the right to shut down an athletic problem for an allotted period of time if they are seen to be repeat violators of NCAA rules and regulations. The school would also be banned from voting on NCAA rule or bylaw changes and stripped of scholarships and TV rights. Teams are allowed to play again once the ban is lifted.
Does the repeat violator tag work on Baylor? Baylor football’s last infraction with the NCAA appeared to have occurred in 1956. Their basketball program, however, was such a repeat offender that the NCAA thought about imposing the death penalty back in 2010. The penalty was avoided thanks in part to Baylor firing their entire basketball staff and implementing what the NCAA called “sweeping changes”. Does Baylor’s basketball past affect their football program? Who knows.
So history is on Baylor’s side, right?
There is Penn State. A university whose own scandal almost took it down. The one example of an official death penalty avoided. The one example of Baylor being safe.
When multiple football players are charged with the same crime, it’s no longer an “isolated incident”. It appears to be a culture problem.
After it was discovered — later prosecuted in a court of law — that defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, had molested several young boys and men on and off of Penn State’s campus, apparently to the knowledge of the school, the NCAA laid down a hammer quite unseen.
The school was fined 60 million dollars and banned from postseason play for four seasons. In addition to losing ten to twenty scholarships per year, the Association vacated all wins dating back to 1998, which were also wiped out from legendary head coach Joe Paterno’s winning record. It wasn’t an official death penalty but it felt like it.
According to then school president Rodney Erickson, the “death penalty” was very close to being enacted. However, the school was relieved to have received the harsh yet not deathly alternative to shutting down for an entire season, maybe even more. In an interview with ESPN, Erickson stated that the “Death Penalty” would have been “traumatic for everyone. It’s traumatic for the student-athletes involved. It’s traumatic for the university.” (Source)
At the time, some felt like the NCAA had overstepped their boundaries. In an 2012 op-ed in The Guardian, sports columnist Dave Zirin said that NCAA president Mark Emmert inserted “himself in a criminal matter […] as judge, jury and executioner.” Zirin noted that Penn State had violated no NCAA bylaws and that Emmert was “intervening with his own personal judgment and cutting the budget of a public university.” (Source).
Penn State’s pseudo- “Death Penalty” did not last. In 2015, the NCAA repealed all of their sanctions. All of Paterno’s wins were restored and school was allowed to play in the post-season. It appeared as a “lesson learned” from the NCAA, even though current football coach James Franklin believes that other schools still use what happened at Penn State as a tool of “negative recruiting” (he later clarified those comments).
If Penn State could survive by the skin of their teeth, then Baylor should be safe. In theory, yes. But times are different and the climate surrounding rape and sexual assault on college campuses is changing. Changing so much that Baylor might get caught in the crossfire.
In an interview with ESPN, Erickson stated that the “Death Penalty” would have been “traumatic for everyone. It’s traumatic for the student-athletes involved. It’s traumatic for the university.”
We’re in an era where rape and sexual assault on college campuses — and effectively through all of sports — is front-page news. Especially in college football where several incidents have made prominent headlines.
In all of these incidents including the more high profile ones at Florida State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Stanford, Title TX violations appeared to have occurred. Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibits “discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity” has, ironically, been known for the advancement of women’s athletics. However, Title IX does addresses sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination, and sexual violence, which includes rape or sexual assault and intimate partner violence (domestic abuse).
Schools are required by law to assist any student who is a victim of these crimes. According to Know Your IX, an organization set out to educate others on protections made available through Title IX, “if a school knows or reasonably should know about discrimination, harassment or violence that is creating a “hostile environment” for any student, it must act to eliminate it, remedy the harm caused and prevent its recurrence.” (Source) . All schools must have a Title IX coordinator and students have the right to file a claim with the Department of Education if they feel that their rights were violated.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, there are currently 260 open cases of Title IX violations in the country. In 2015, a comprehensive list of schools who were under investigation for violations was released. The list was far reaching from public universities to private Christian colleges (like Baylor) to HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities).
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, their spouses and government officials publicly declared that they would no longer visit schools that were under investigations for Title IX violations. Many publications from Buzzfeed to Time magazine have addressed the issue.
We’re in a different time and age. It’s no longer safe to discourage victims from filing complaints or seeking charges. The NCAA could very well make a statement that they are a part of that change as well, maybe by adding personal conduct rules to the bylaws. Isn’t it about the protection of students, their often-chided tagline since their invention?
But walking back on Penn State may show that they are not going to get involved unless an on-the-book violation can be proven. And since there is none, Baylor may survive. To the dismay of all of us.