One of the worst-kept secrets in college football is that the president, the athletic director, and the football coach aren’t actually in charge. This isn’t to absolve them of their responsibilities—they have many, which they love using as selling points when talking to moms about building better men, then forgetting when independent investigators come around. But the final call always rests with something higher—let’s call it the donor class—that sends millions dollars an athletic program’s way and expects a certain amount of influence in return.
This is why when reports emerged, and wouldn’t go away, that Baylor’s Board of Regents was considering bringing back football coach Art Briles—suspended “indefinitely with intent to terminate” (but maybe not!) after the university admitted to making life hell for women who reported they were raped, especially when the accusations involved football players—sports reporters knew to call the boosters and the donors. They got answers like this:
Unless they talked to different donors, who were less inclined to be named. Like the one who talked to WFAA:
According to a large Baylor donor, high-level boosters are not pushing for Art Briles to be reinstated, but rather for transparency from the Board of Regents and for the opportunity for Briles to defend himself.
Or the ones who talked to USA Today (emphasis added):
While a small minority of Baylor donors have been pushing behind the scenes to bring back Art Briles as football coach in 2017—effectively giving him a one-year suspension—it is unlikely to result in any action, USA TODAY Sports has learned.
By day’s end, even the interim president was confirming that a faction of boosters wants Briles back but “other factors have to be taken into consideration.”
Did the regents themselves address the issue? Of course not. The press office for Baylor told me that my questions were for spokeswoman Tonya Lewis. I left her a phone message and emailed her, but never heard back. I also couldn’t get in touch with Drayton McLane, Jr., the billionaire whose name is on Baylor’s stadium. Over at ESPN, Outside the Lines tried to reach more than 30 of the regents. Four refused to comment; the rest didn’t respond.
Lost in all this—and anyone who wants Briles back is banking on you forgetting this—is that this is the same Briles who oversaw the football staff that was singled out recently for taking actions that “posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University.”
‘Inappropriate involvement in disciplinary and criminal matters’
Let’s revisit what’s been released. The full findings of the independent investigators, from the law firm Pepper Hamilton, weren’t released and might not even exist in paper form. But what was made public was the “Findings Of Fact” crafted by the regents, and it describes an athletic department and specifically football team that did whatever it had to do to keep players on the field and make women who said they were assaulted just go away.
It would require a suspension of logic to believe that Briles knew nothing about what has been made public. They include convincing women to not report what happened, as described below:
Baylor failed to take appropriate action to respond to reports of sexual assault and dating violence reportedly committed by football players ... In certain instances, including reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, athletics and football personnel affirmatively chose not to report sexual violence and dating violence to an appropriate administrator outside of athletics. In those instances, football coaches or staff met directly with a complainant and/or a parent of a complainant and did not report the misconduct. As a result, no action was taken to support complainants, fairly and impartially evaluate the conduct under Title IX, address identified cultural concerns within the football program, or protect campus safety once aware of a potential pattern of sexual violence by multiple football players.
They also created their own internal system for handling these reports, which is a direct violation of federal regulations, while shielding athletes from whatever discipline the university might have meted out.
Football staff conducted their own untrained internal inquiries, outside of policy, which improperly discredited complainants and denied them the right to a fair, impartial and informed investigation, interim measures or processes promised under University policy. In some cases, internal steps gave the illusion of responsiveness to complainants but failed to provide a meaningful institutional response under Title IX. Further, because reports were not shared outside of athletics, the University missed critical opportunities to impose appropriate disciplinary action that would have removed offenders from campus and possibly precluded future acts of sexual violence against Baylor students.
This was by design. The findings of fact report said that “individuals within the football program actively sought to maintain internal control over discipline for other forms of misconduct.” In some cases, the football team would dismiss a player for “unspecified team violations” and then help them transfer to another school. Coaches even went so far as to meddle with criminal cases.
In some cases, football coaches and staff had inappropriate involvement in disciplinary and criminal matters or engaged in improper conduct that reinforced an overall perception that football was above the rules, and that there was no culture of accountability for misconduct.
Leaders didn’t even bother trying to understand why they might have players accused of violence. Instead, the findings of fact gives this example:
In addition, in one instance, in response to concerns about misconduct by football players that could contribute to a hostile environment, an academic program that required interaction with the football program improperly restricted educational opportunities for students, rather than take steps to eliminate a potential hostile environment.
How the hell could Baylor even consider bringing back the football coach connected to all this? Easy. Briles had a 65-37 record, a great run that included one with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.
The price of winning
What is the value of a woman? Of a victim? Is there a price you can put on a person’s trauma? At Baylor there is. In a report today saying the board would vote on possibly bringing back Briles, Horns Digest’s Chip Brown notes it is expected to cost “between $15 million and $25 million” to settle the contract. It shouldn’t matter how much it costs to break Briles’s contract—he was a part a of systemic university failure to even pretend to care about the safety of women.
The first part of repairing that wound, if its even possible, is letting go of Briles. But Horns Digest report also has a glimpse of the excuses at the ready for bringing Briles back.
There are those among the Baylor leadership who feel the major failings of the BU rape scandal fall on Starr for the school not having a Title IX coordinator from 2011-2014, sources said. If BU had a Title IX coordinator, the football coaching staff would have had training on how to handle any complaints of rape or assault made against football players, sources said.
The problem is that Briles didn’t have an administrator—who would have been paid much less than him—to remind him that rape is bad. Think about that! A grown man being paid millions of dollars, in charge of dozens of young men, and acting as the most prominent face of your university, needs someone to remind him that that the safety of women matters?
It’s those young men, though, who know how things really work. As Baylor linebacker Taylor Young tweeted, then deleted, “You let go of the man who made this university relevant?”
Briles isn’t back, for now. But his name never should have even come up to begin with. Baylor, time and time again, has described itself as a Christian university to the media, including in one report that future action should include “recommendations to foster an even more Christ-centered culture on campus.” But every single one of its actions suggests otherwise. It’s easy to quote Christ. It’s harder to admit that football is still your true king.