Baylor: The Next Penn State? Not So for the NCAA

On February 20, 2017, in SELS Blog, by Matthew Weiss

By: Rohan Mohanty*

On February 8, 2017, the Big 12 Conference Board of Directors announced they had unanimously voted to, “withhold twenty-five percent of future revenue (about $7.5 million annually) distribution payments to Baylor University, pending the outcome of third-party verification review of required changes to Baylor’s athletics procedures and to institutional governance of its intercollegiate athletics programs, among other matters.”[1] The withholding will be in effect indefinitely, until the Big 12 is satisfied that Baylor is in compliance with the Conference bylaws and regulations as well as all components of Title IX.

The sanctions come at an obvious time of turmoil for the university and its athletics department. Dating back to 2011, there have been thirty-one reports of sexual assault or harassment by members of the football team, and more broadly, 125 reports of such incidents throughout Baylor’s campus as a whole.[2]

In May 2016, law firm Pepper Hamilton released their findings of a third-party investigation into the university in which it found, “specific failings within both the football program and Athletics Department leadership, including a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player, to take action in response to reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, and to take action in response to a report of dating violence.”[3]

With such extensive and scathing findings, the question now becomes what action will the NCAA impose on Baylor. The answer—none—at least for now. The NCAA, “has notified Baylor that it won’t exert its executive authority to impose sweeping sanctions against the school for broad institutional failings, and will instead follow its normal investigative process, according to people familiar with the matter.”[4]

The NCAA’s stance on the Baylor situation is in stark contrast with the historic punishment it imposed on Penn State for the Jerry Sandusky scandal. So what has changed? Perhaps the NCAA’s experience with Penn State has shed the light that they aren’t equipped to handle such non-athletic endeavors. Internal emails within the NCAA regarding the Sandusky issue displayed systemic confusion on how to handle such a situation.[5] Coupled with extensive legal fees and mass media attention regarding something other than athletics, the NCAA may now believe that it is not in their best interest to handle such matters.

While on its face, the handling of institutional chaos at a member university might not seem to be an issue for college athletics governing body, a look at their own core values would suggest otherwise. Listed as fourth out of its seven core values, the NCAA says that they have a belief and commitment to, “[t]he supporting role that intercollegiate athletics plays in the higher education mission and in enhancing the sense of community and strengthening the identity of member institutions.”[6] Does the sense of community the NCAA claims to support not diminish when a member institution participates in the system silencing and non-acknowledgement of victims of sexual violence by its own student-athletes?

The NCAA’s stance on Baylor suggests that they are willing to accept the benefits of college athletics without exposing themselves to the risk. The times of “sticking to sports” are no longer tolerated by the public. Sports have become too mainstream and too lucrative for its governing bodies to shy away from the inevitable legal battles which are sure to appear.


*Staff Writer, Villanova University Sports Law Society Blog; J.D. Candidate, May 2019, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.

[1] Press Release, Big XII Conference, Big 12 Board Action Announced (Feb. 8, 2017), http://www.big12sports.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=10410&ATCLID=211461596#.WJs_G3eCIsc.twitter.

[2] Wade Goodwyn, Baylor Sanctioned by Big 12 After New Revelations About Sexual Assault Controversy, NPR (Feb. 8, 2017), http://www.npr.org/2017/02/08/514172776/baylor-sanctioned-by-big-12-after-new-revelations-about-football-team-controvers.

[3] Baylor University Board of Regents, Findings of Fact (2016), https://www.baylor.edu/rtsv/doc.php/266596.pdf.

[4] Richard Johnson, Why the Baylor Scandal Isn’t in the NCAA’s Jurisdiction, SB Nation (Nov. 8, 2016), http://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2016/11/8/13565824/baylor-ncaa-investigation-sanctions.

[5] Id.

[6] NCAA Core Values, NCAA, http://www.ncaa.org/about/ncaa-core-values (last visited Feb. 20, 2017).

 

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