Controversy continues to swirl around Baylor football and head coach Art Briles regarding how the program handled a sheaf of recently revealed allegations against Baylor players over the years, including sexual assault and violence against women.
A school-commissioned investigation by Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton is due to produce a report that the private school may be compelled to release, to stave off charges of continuing to conceal important information from the public. Texas' attorney general has now also said Baylor must release some information related to sexual assault reports, despite being a private university.
Thursday brought three major pieces arguing that Baylor's options seem increasingly limited, and that Briles' time with the school may be even more so.
First, Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Mac Engel, a fixture at that newspaper for more than 20 years, made the case in a column that Baylor's options are down to either retaining Briles and bracing for an onslaught of negative publicity or letting him go.
The [Board of Regents] is expected to keep Briles but two sources indicated firing him is being considered as the final solution to a scandal that continues to be a nightmare for the entire school for what is now approaching a full calendar year.
Just after midnight on Thursday, Fox Sports writer Bruce Feldman reported other college coaches are speculating on Briles' future and on what Baylor should do from here.
The coaches Feldman spoke to may well have their own axes to grind against the newly successful Baylor program (it's worth noting his sources in the past have included coaches associated with some Texas state rivals). He's led BU to four of the five 10-win seasons in program history.
But the fact that they're speaking to a national writer about Briles' future indicates this is on their minds. And if something is on a coach's mind, it could certainly become fodder for recruiting against Baylor, even if it only means putting the question of Briles' longevity in a recruit's mind.
Feldman later said on a Texas Longhorns-centric radio show that he "doesn't think" Briles will still be Baylor's coach in mid-summer, saying it's a "50-50 chance."
And Baylor has more than just its best football coach ever and a historic peak for its program to fret over. Late Thursday, Sports Illustrated senior writer Andy Staples made a case that Baylor might have to protect arguably its only enterprise bigger than its football program -- the university itself -- by firing Briles.
This is what the regents must consider as they deliberate. How thoroughly do these incidents damage the brand of a Baptist university that sells a more wholesome college experience than the ones available at secular and state schools. How much might inaction cost? If the regents determine the brand isn’t significantly damaged, they may get away with doing nothing. If the regents determine the cost to the school, in dollars and esteem, is high enough, they might just force out Briles, (athletic director Ian) McCaw and president Ken Starr, who this time may find himself on the business end of a high-profile investigation into sexual impropriety. (If any regents have a political beef with Starr, don’t be shocked if they try to take advantage of the situation.)
While the most cynical among us may assume that Baylor’s recent football success will guide the regents to gloss over the school’s issues, the regents have some powerful incentives to take serious action. It’s quite possible the scandal has already begun eating into Baylor’s bottom line. If it has, football, and any desire to protect a successful coach, will be an afterthought.
Briles -- not McCaw, who was hired in 2003 and hired Briles in 2007, nor Starr, who arrived at Baylor in 2010 -- remains the primary target of these allegations largely because of his prominence, his proximity to and presumed responsibility for his players, and the allegations -- damning if true -- that he was personally told of several allegations while doing little in response.
It's possible that McCaw and/or Starr will find themselves in the crosshairs, as Baylor is facing attacks on many flanks for failures both inside and outside its football program.
Briles is the biggest name involved in this mess, and inarguably the biggest domino on the table. Firing him would be crossing the Rubicon. Baylor could scarcely do anything more dramatic to admit failure and punish one of the people most responsible for it. It would eliminate the slim possibility that the school would try to weather the storm without wholesale changes.
That Briles hasn't been fired suggests Baylor is at least waiting on a full return of the Pepper Hamilton fact-finding. But if too many more concerning media reports surface, the Bears' hand could be forced.