The (rapid) rise and (free) fall of Baylor football

Art-BrilesThe cautionary school is now a cautionary tale. Baylor, you may recall, is the Waco place that outlawed dancing on campus from 1845 to 1996.

Like many sinners, though, it was drawn into the devil’s music some heathens refer to as  “major college football.”

The pull of pigskin can be as addictive and corrosive as anything  Johnny Football has ingested lately.

It is possible to wonder if many of the shameful things Baylor allowed to happened would have happened had the football team not become a national power under Art Briles, who took over in 2008 and has most recently posted 10-3, 11-2 and 11-2 seasons.

The things people do to protect football programs are not unique to Baylor, but tend to look worse when they happen there instead of say, Idaho.

Baylor sees itself as a high-and-mighty institution bathed in unyielding Baptists tenets, making deviations from the theme more self-righteously unseemly and disquieting.

The report that led to Thursday’s jettisoning of coach Art Briles and president Ken Starr concluded the school failed to respond to reports of sexual assault on six female students from 2009-2016. Baylor accepted two football players after they were dismissed from other schools for nefarious behavior.

Win at any cost? It sure looks that way.

Until 1996, Baylor considered dancing a sinful act and liked to institutionally boast: “Baptists don’t smoke, drink, dance, chew or associate with those who do.”

Starr, the school’s president since 2013, once presided over the report that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment after his inappropriate, but certainly legal, affair with a White House intern.

A lot of universities sell their souls to get really good at football–Baylor was not supposed to be one of them.

Yet, it was easy on Thursday to think that all the polluted stuff going since 2009 was back-shelved so as to not interfere with the remarkable, money-making rise of a football machine.

Baylor’s ascent was so dramatic, maybe suspiciously so in hindsight, that it dared to eclipse the seemingly sovereign jurisdiction of Texas Longhorn Football.

Briles borrowed what branding-giant Oregon was doing in Eugene and brought it to Waco, with similar success.  Baylor co-opted Oregon’s offense, up-tempo style and uniforms on its way up from the Big 12 basement.

Before Briles arrived, Baylor had not had a winning season since 1995. It was the team you most wanted to schedule for the homecoming game.

Briles created the exciting kind of football that, especially at places that aren’t historically good at it, often come with whispers and a cost.

Baylor eventually got around to doing the right thing Thursday. It finally said what you’re supposed to say about sexual assault as it relates to your students.

A cynic might still wonder if any of this come-to-Jesus thinking would have happened if not for the foraging journalism produced by Texas Monthly and ESPN’s Outside the Lines.

Baylor finally (fall of 2015) commissioned its own independent study, by the law firm Pepper Hamilton, that led to an issued statement.

“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus,” it read in part. “This investigation revealed the University’s mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students. These acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve more…”

This statement would have sounded much better in 2013.

But, you know, it’s always easier to do the right things when your football program isn’t winning 10 games a year, or providing the financial stimulus to erect $266 million monuments that are used six times a year.

A top-10 team always makes campus life easier and sometimes makes it harder to do what is even commanded by law.

Thank goodness Baylor was finally pressured into the right place, no matter the ramifications or possible win-loss impact.

Maybe the school can even get back to some of its old ways.

It was “throw back Thursday” on campus in this sense: no one was dancing.


3 thoughts on “The (rapid) rise and (free) fall of Baylor football

  1. I wish I could…, but I can’t. I have led an imperfect life governed by, among other principles, “learn from your own and others’ mistakes”. Yet, on September 3 we will all sit, in awe, and watch College football to “escape from Reality”.
    Brides will be fired, Starrr will eventually leave and the beat will go on, without missing a beat. One can only hope someone will learn someTHING from this “mistake”. Note the ironical use of the word “hope”.


  2. How was Ken Starr not fired too? Because he is a republican/christian hero?
    It’s obvious when schools like Baylor & Ole Miss (hello!) get good – all of the sudden – that there’s a problem.
    And when Briles tried to sell us that Chris Peterson was lying, well, I was SURE that that he was hiding something.
    Good riddance.


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