June 3rd, 2016

Reed: College sports becoming a cesspool

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Billy Reed

Executive Editor


Reed: College sports becoming a cesspool
The scandal that led to Art Briles’ forced resignation as Baylor’s football coach is an alarming sign of the times in college athletics / photo and cover photo from Baylor University’s football Facebook page

We don’t have an official state religion in Kentucky, unless you count basketball, but I learned on the web that of the 50 percent of us who claim a religious affiliation, about 30 percent identify with one sect or another of the Baptist church.

I’ll bet that most of these Baptists have been too busy worrying about stuff like same-sex marriage or John Calipari’s latest batch of future NBA stars to concern themselves much with the most recent of a long laundry list of scandals at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

That’s because they may not know that Baylor long has been the world’s biggest Baptist-affiliated university. It was founded by Baptist missionaries in 1845 and remains the oldest educational college or university in the state.

Curiously, Baylor’s website now says the university is a private, Christian university. I don’t know if that indicates some kind of a movement away from the Baptist church or whether it’s intended to expand Baylor’s student population of 16,787 by appealing to Christians across the spectrum.

Whatever, a religious-affiliated university is absolutely the last place where you would expect violence against women or anybody else to be tolerated.

Yet in recent days, Baylor President Kenneth Starr (yes, the same guy who investigated President Bill Clinton as a special prosecutor in the 1990s), head football coach Art Briles and athletic director Ian McCaw all have been forced to resign in the wake of a scandal that is disgraceful even by today’s big-time college athletic standards, which is saying a lot.

The resignations were the results of a university-sponsored investigation that depicted a “culture that failed to hold the football team accountable, discouraged victims from filing complaints, and, on numerous occasions, neglected to remove victims from potentially dangerous situations with assailants.”

Sadly, Baylor has not learned anything from its sordid past. Back in the early 1990s, basketball coach Darrell Johnson was fired for various NCAA academic and recruiting violations. Even more shocking, one of Johnson’s successors, Dave Bliss, got involved in a scheme which encouraged a player to cover up the murder – that’s right, murder – of another.

Yet to this day Baylor sells itself as a place where the Baptist – make that Christian – faith guides everything that happens on campus, from scientific research to Big 12 Conference competition.

It’s notable that the last university to receive the NCAA death penalty, which means the program is shut down for a year or two, was Southern Methodist, located in Dallas. At least the Methodists’ transgressions were confined to academics and recruiting instead of rape, assault and intimidation. And, yes, this is the same SMU that was on NCAA probation last for rules violations that were committed under Hall of Fame basketball coach Larry Brown.

So what went so wrong at Baylor? Well, you can round up the usual suspects, which always begins with the corruptive influence of big money. The pursuit of athletic glory – and the lucre that comes with it – leads even the best universities to compromise their academics and admissions standards in order to enroll highly skilled athletes who have no business being in college.

As you read this, the NCAA is stewing over what to do with Baylor. Since it overstepped its boundaries in the Penn State child abuse case, the NCAA has become more ineffectual than ever. It’s obvious that the NCAA measures its sanctions against the possibility of debilitating lawsuits. But the other big issue, raised by Penn State and now by Baylor, is the relationship between the NCAA and the legal system.

Logic tells us that violations of the law take precedence over violations of NCAA rules. But while the law can put accused sexual abusers on trial and even in jail, it does not have the right to impose eligibility sanctions against universities or their employees.

So it’s possible that Baylor, which would seem to be an excellent candidate for the NCAA death penalty, probably will be allowed to continue fielding a football team despite the alleged conduct of some former players and the administration’s attempt to cover up their disgusting crimes.

But what about Baylor’s affiliation with the Baptists and other Christian religions? Isn’t it about time for those leaders to step forward and demand more of the university they support? Where’s the righteous indignation and moral outrage that should be coming from pulpits in Kentucky and other states? Where’s Billy Graham when you really need him?

Sometimes I think our nation has lost its capacity for moral outrage. When a candidate for President of the United States can improve his popularity by utilizing lies, slander, insults and pure meanness, it’s obvious we are no longer the country we once were. Make America great again? How about making America moral again?

The intent here is not to impugn religious universities – Notre Dame and Wake Forest are among those that still do most things right – or to single out Baylor, which is hardly the first university to try to cover up illegal or anti-social behavior by scholarship athletes.

The intent is to point out that nobody who aspires to success at the NCAA’s highest level is immune from scandal. If a culture of abuse and cover-up can happen at a major religious-based university, it can happen anywhere. The only question is what, if anything, the powers that be in college athletics are going to do about it.

As the Bible tells us, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” I’m sure that lesson is taught in the classrooms at Baylor. Now the students have a first-hand example to study. A winning football program is a money machine, and just about everybody seems to believe that winning trumps all, no matter what the risk or cost.

Under the current structure of the NCAA, only the university presidents can change the model. But they have proven to be a feckless bunch who keep their heads firmly lodged in the sand when it comes to bringing perspective and control to big-time college athletics.

When Starr resigned as Baylor’s president, he said his decision was “a matter of conscience.” Good for him. In fact the world, including college athletics, would be a much better place if more people either developed a conscience or listened to the one they already have.

Nobody with a conscience can honestly deny that big-time college athletics have become a cesspool of corruption. There’s so much of it that NCAA investigators are overwhelmed. But that will change only when the public demands it, and the public is far more interested in filling stadium seats instead of church pews, Baptist or otherwise.

 

 

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