The scandal swirling around the football program at Baylor is very disheartening for the school’s alumni, students, and constituents. After years of suffering through football seasons that brought less than mediocre performances, and a move to the Big 12 that initially added teams like Nebraska and Oklahoma to the regular schedule, Baylor hired Art Briles, and conquered the conference. Once rare wins over Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech have become not only commonplace, but some of them have been lopsided in the Bears’ favor. The Bears won just two Southwest Conference titles under legendary coach Grant Teaff, but have produced two Big-12 titles under Briles.
With talent ready and poised to win another conference title and content for a national championship playoff slot, the program blew apart when it was revealed that football players had sexually assaulted students, and were shielded by coaches and athletic staff members from consequences, whether legal or otherwise. On the verge of winning another conference title last season, key injuries, particularly to quarterback talent, kept the Bears from their goal. With the key players returning this season, anticipation of a great season has turned into colossal disappointment. The coach will be dismissed. The athletic director has been suspended, and the university president has been relieved of his duties and assigned responsibilities away from university operations as chancellor.
Baylor was founded by Texas Baptists, primarily as a place to train preachers. It still does that, and it still claims some connection to its Baptist roots, though it has allowed non-Baptists to occupy board seats, and Texas Baptists no longer elect its trustees. Some may think that the drift away from its roots is the problem, and in some ways, and to a certain extent, that does have something to do with it. But big time college football doesn’t happen on very many campuses of universities with Christian roots, or Christian ownership. Baylor is one of the few. At least one of the others, Southern Methodist University, whose campus is probably less than a two hour drive away from Baylor, also felt the pressure required to be competitive, and became the first NCAA school to undergo the “death penalty” for rules violations. It’s football program never recovered. And in the last twenty years or so, only one Division 1, church related school has been able to compete at the same level Baylor achieved under Briles, and that’s Notre Dame.
The bright spot in this is that once all of the facts came out, the board did what it needed to do, especially to state that the school still desires to respect and follow the Christian heritage that birthed it. The university has a chance to demonstrate that it does indeed care about its students, and it can work to make sure that there is acute awareness that sexual assault by anyone on the campus will be handled correctly, and without preferential treatment for those involved in athletics. Those days are gone, and Baylor’s reputation and future is on the line.
It is time for Baylor to look to its heritage, and its Baptist, Christian roots, and draw the strength that it needs to make the right decisions, as well as to set a good example in putting its football program back on the right track. Many of the players on the team are also Christians, who chose Baylor because of its Christian influence. And while coaching is important, no individual coach is more important than a whole team. Many of its current players are planning to return, and there will be a lot of attention paid to what happens there in the fall. The school has an opportunity to redeem itself and its reputation, and still put a winning team on the field.
It can be done right.