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Why the Baylor scandal isn't the NCAA's jurisdiction

This is a situation best left to governing bodies that are equipped to deal with actual crime. And BU is unlikely to remain a football power for the next few years, partly due to fallout.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

According to The Wall Street Journal, the NCAA will not at this time discipline Baylor in the wake of the football team’s sexual assault scandal.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association 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.

But why?

That’s a fair question to ask of the institution that hammered Penn State, only later to renege on these wide-ranging sanctions.

The NCAA gave an historic punishment to the program in 2012 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, including a four-year bowl ban, vacated wins, scholarship reductions and a $60 million fine. The scholarship sanctions were previously reduced in September 2013.

But that fiasco — which led to years-long legal battling, largely over exactly how to spend that $60 million — is the reason the NCAA is staying on the sidelines in this case, according to the WSJ.

The NCAA’s aggression in the Penn State case “really backfired,” says B. David Ridpath, an Ohio University professor of sports administration. “I doubt you will ever see the NCAA do anything like that again.”

Internal emails revealed the NCAA itself wasn’t comfortable with taking on the Penn State scandal.

Shouldn’t the NCAA do something, though?

The NCAA designed itself to maintain its guidelines on athletic amateurism, not to serve as law enforcement. It has no legal subpoena power, and its investigations into academics and eligibility — issues that don’t even involve victims of crime — often stretch on for years at a time, as North Carolina and Ole Miss demonstrate.

When it wades into legal matters, the waters get murky, and they look like they’re just making it up as they go along. That also serves to undermine further enforcement efforts in subsequent investigations.

So who could potentially punish Baylor?

Well, maybe still the NCAA, in a way. The WSJ story has a line about “a more narrow NCAA probe” that is still ongoing. It doesn’t exactly concern the crimes alleged in the scandal, but would rather involve anything the NCAA happened to discover that violates one of its eligibility rules.

Baylor, based in Waco, Texas, has said it is cooperating with the NCAA, and people familiar with the matter say that probe will likely continue for months. That investigation will likely focus more narrowly on whether Baylor athletes received preferential treatment through the school’s disciplinary process, which could be an impermissible benefit under NCAA rules, the people said.

There are also other entities that could go after the school. There are Title IX suits being levied at the school, in addition to potential civil trials.

There’s precedent for the Department of Education to step in; it’s already launched a Title IX investigation. The department recently fined Penn State $2.4 million for violations of the Clery Act, “the federal law that governs crime disclosure at universities participating in federal aid programs.”

On the field, Baylor’s program has already changed in ways that are similar to the common effects of NCAA sanctions.

SB Nation recruiting analyst Bud Elliott said:

“From 2012-15, 15 percent of Baylor's signees were rated four- or five-stars, a trend that was rapidly increasing as the Bears established themselves as a program. But after the scandal, Baylor's 2016 signing class was slashed to just 17 members, with only one blue-chipper. 2017 is even worse. Baylor has just two commitments, and there is zero chatter about BU's chances at top prospects.

“Even if the new staff hits the ground running, which it won't, the 2016-17 classes are going to set Baylor back on the field significantly.”

Many 2016 players were released from their National Letters of Intent, and the future of recruiting is affected.

It didn’t take sanctions by the NCAA to affect the on-field product or the program at large.

There are plenty of other entities available to do the work the NCAA would have risked botching.