In less than 100 days, the college football season will open and the NCAA can slip back into its protective cocoon.
Because then it won’t be about just scandals and Title IX lawsuits and cover-ups of heinous criminal actions by athlete, it will be about games and rankings and crowds and tailgates and revenue. Especially revenue. College football generates more than $3.4 billion, and Nick Saban’s new contract at Alabama pays him $11 million annually, which isn’t bad for an amateur sports enterprise that has balked at paying its players more than tuition and a free trip through the sandwich bar.
I bring this up now because Baylor, whose football program generated $38.3 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year, hasn’t heard a peep from the NCAA, despite the school’s failure to properly respond to a series of alleged sexual assaults that date to 2012.
The NCAA has done or said nothing, even against the backdrop of a seventh Title IX federal lawsuit being filed last week, alleging a former Baylor volleyball player was drugged and gang-raped by eight football players. The suit also contends school officials “enlisted current and former members” of the athletic department to contact her in hopes of dissuading “her from speaking to reporters … and (to) clear Baylor officials of any wrongdoing.”
The NCAA has done or said nothing, despite the fact that Baylor’s board of regents felt compelled last summer to fire university president Ken Starr and football coach Art Briles, several other athletic department employees and sanction athletic director Ian McCaw, who ultimately resigned under pressure.
(Liberty University subsequently hired McCaw. We’ll let Jerry Falwell Jr. sort that out with his god in the afterlife.)
The NCAA has done or said nothing because … why exactly?
Baylor should be slapped with major sanctions. Possibly even the “death penalty.” Shelving the football program for a few years would send a needed message in college athletics that enabling criminal behavior for the sake of maintaining a program’s national ranking and economic power won’t be tolerated.
Baylor should be slapped for the same reason Penn State should have been slapped when its coaches and administrators were found to have covered up the actions of a serial child molester and rapist Jerry Sandusky, the former long-time defensive coordinator under the late Joe Paterno.
Many have disagreed with this position. One argument is that benching a program for three or four years penalizes current athletes and coaches who aren’t connected with past infractions. But that’s usually an unfortunate byproduct of all NCAA sanctions, which often come down after the players (and sometimes coaches) have left.
Another argument: The NCAA’s disciplinary powers shouldn’t and/or don’t stretch beyond what’s considered “normal” cheating: academic fraud, paying players, recruiting violations. Those rules are put in place specifically to prevent a program from gaining a competitive advantage.
But in what ways do Baylor’s and Penn State’s actions NOT constitute gaining or maintaining a competitive advantage? Enabling and covering up the sickening crimes like those in Waco, Texas, and State College, Pa., are far worse than changing a kid’s grade or giving him cash to sign a letter of intent.
School administrators and coaches don’t cover up rapes and shield child molesters because they find no problem with rapes and child molesters. They do so to protect programs, keep revenue streams flowing and preserve a power structure that created success.
They do so to win.
Baylor has settled two civil cases involving alleged rape victims. But those are mere specks compared with the Title IX cases. In January, a lawsuit was filed claiming at least 52 “acts of rape” by no fewer than 31 players under Briles. It labeled the football program as having “the most widespread culture of sexual violence and abuse of women ever in a collegiate athletic program.”
The most recent suit states that a woman was inebriated (and she believes drugged) when she was taken from a party to somebody’s apartment. From “Jane Doe vs. Baylor University”: “Plaintiff remembers lying on her back, unable to move and staring at glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling as the football players took turns raping her. Following the gang rape, Plaintiff remembers hearing the players yell ‘Grab her phone! Delete my numbers and texts!’”
The suit paints a picture of a system where freshman players were hazed by having them bring females to parties to be drugged and assaulted. It goes on from there. Harassment from players. Threats. Unsympathetic counselors. Unresponsive football employees.
To its credit, Baylor cleaned house and plans to adopt 105 recommendations from the Pepper Hamilton investigation. But that’s not enough.
The NCAA is gun-shy. While it decided against hitting Penn State with the “death penalty,” it levied significant sanctions, including a four-year bowl ban, $60 million fine and reduction of scholarships. But those penalties were rolled back 14 months late amid the threat of legal challenges that it had overstepped its authority in matters pertaining to non-traditional infractions.
The NCAA has charged Louisville’s basketball program with infractions stemming from an investigation that it provided prostitutes to recruits. But the body is justifying that by calling those “impermissible benefits.” Cute.
But that kind of dance shouldn’t be necessary. I understand the NCAA is an overworked, dysfunctional outfit. There’s no excuse for its investigation into academic fraud at North Carolina lasting this long without resolution.
But if college sports’ primary body can slap a player or a program for a free warm-up suit from an agent but won’t come down on a program for something that really matters, what good is it?
Cover up players getting free shoes: probation.
Cover up players drugging and raping other students: silence.
Don’t tell me that’s what the NCAA is supposed to be here for.