NCAA announces ruling on Baylor sexual assault scandal

By Marquis Cooley | Sports Editor, Video by Nate Smith | Executive Producer

After six years of investigations, the NCAA released its ruling on Aug. 11 on the sexual assault scandal that has haunted not just the Baylor football program but the university as a whole since 2016. The NCAA came to the decision that they could not conclude that Baylor violated NCAA rules when it failed to report allegations of and address sexual and interpersonal violence committed on its campus.

The NCAA Committee on Infractions did not punish the football program for the sexual assault scandal because the infractions committee concluded it was not just an athletics problem, but rather a campus-wide culture of not reporting those types of violence “due to ignorance and leadership failings across campus.” The committee had more harsh words for those in charge at the time in their 51-page report detailing the investigation, including former Baylor football head coach Art Briles, saying “the head coach failed to meet even the most basic expectations of how a person should react to the kind of conduct at issue in this case. As a campus leader, the head coach is held to an even higher standard. He completely failed to meet this standard,” the report said.

“Baylor admitted to moral and ethical failings in its handling of sexual and interpersonal violence on campus but argued those failings, however egregious, did not constitute violations of NCAA rules. Ultimately, and with tremendous reluctance, this panel agrees,” the panel said in its decision. “To arrive at a different outcome would require the [committee] to ignore the rules the Association’s membership has adopted — rules under which the [committee] is required to adjudicate. Such an outcome would be antithetical to the integrity of the infractions process.”

The panel did find other violations that occurred between 2011 and 2016. A football student-athlete was not reported for failing to meet an academic performance plan following an academic violation. The university also operated a predominantly female student-host program called the Baylor Bruins that did not align with NCAA recruiting rules. Additionally, a former assistant director of football operations did not meet his obligation to cooperate and violated ethical conduct rules when he did not participate in the investigation.

Those violations resulted in:

  • Four years of probation for the football program.
  • A $5,000 fine.
  • A reduction to 30 football official visits during the 2021-22 academic year.
  • A three-week ban on unofficial visits in football during the 2021-22 academic year.
  • A two-week ban on football recruiting communication during the 2021-22 academic year.
  • A reduction of football evaluation days by three during fall 2021 and by 10 during spring 2022.
  • A five-year show-cause order for the former assistant director of football operations. During that period, any NCAA member school employing him must restrict him from any athletically related duties unless it shows cause why the restrictions should not apply.
  • A vacation of all records in which student-athletes competed while ineligible in the 2011 season. The university must provide a written report containing the contests impacted to the NCAA media coordination and statistics staff within 14 days of the public release of the decision. Baylor believes it will consequently have to forfeit five games from that season.

After the ruling was made public, Baylor President Dr. Linda Livingstone and Vice President and Athletic Director Mack Rhoades hosted a press conference to respond to questions about the ruling. They admitted their initial judgement was they considered it fair and Baylor likely will not appeal it.

“Our attorneys are still, obviously, in the process of thoroughly reviewing the report,” Rhoades said. “I think at this point in time, it’s probably unlikely we appeal. We have 15 days to make that decision. But right now, just after initial review and initial discussions with our attorneys, we think that will be unlikely.”

Fans and media have voiced their unhappiness with the ruling. Sports Illustrated called the ruling a “slap on the wrist.” NCAA President Mark Emmert issued a statement on Baylor’s ruling following the same sentiment, highlighting how the authority of the NCAA is limited in this area.

“The conduct by some former Baylor administrators, coaches and student-athletes described in today’s Committee on Infractions decision is unacceptable and runs counter to the values of the NCAA,” Emmert said. “Schools have taken many steps to address sexual violence on campus, but as the COI (Committee on Infractions) points out, the authority of the NCAA in this area is very limited today. This is a clear demonstration of why the Association needs transformational change to create alignment between authority and responsibility to address the most critical issues in college sports. The newly formed Constitution Committee is charged to effectuate this change and the membership should vote to do so at our national convention in January.”

Dr. Livingstone, who was named to that 23-person NCAA committee Tuesday, said she understands why some may not agree with the ruling but also pointed out that there were many other ways in which the school has been held accountable such as the legal and civil litigation processes as well as the criminal process in some instances, like other schools that have experienced similar issues.

Dr. Livingstone said this has and will continue to be a situation that has a lasting impact on the Baylor community.

“While the Baylor family has faced its share of significant challenges over the past few years, these challenges pale in comparison to the impacts on sexual assault survivors and the many lives that have been forever impacted,” Dr. Livingstone said. “What happened at Baylor will always be a part of who we are. It will always be a part of our story, and it will always be a part of what influences and informs the decisions we make now and into the future.”

“I am confident saying that Baylor is a much different university today than it was three, five and certainly 10 years ago,” Dr. Livingstone added.

The Baylor president also had a message for the sexual assault victims, some of which she has personally talked to and spent time with, apologizing for what they went through.

“I hope, though, that they will understand how much Baylor has learned from these past experiences, how much we regret what happened on our campus at that period of time and how different we are now because of what we learned from that experience,” Dr. Livingstone said. “I’m sorry it took us going through that to learn those lessons and to make those changes, and I regret the pain and hurt that it caused many along the way in that process.”

And we certainly want to continue to do everything we can to prevent these kinds of incidents going forward, because these are traumatic life experiences that change someone’s life forever.”

Rhoades feels his athletics department has changed too.

“Our athletics department and our university are committed to being outstanding members of the Big 12 conference and the NCAA,” Rhoades said. “The dramatic changes and reforms implemented over the last five plus years at Baylor, I believe, have made us a model for institutions to follow. We are not perfect — that’s for sure. We cannot know what lies ahead, but I’ve never been more proud to be a member of the Baylor family than I am today because I know we took the difficult steps to get it right.”