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The NCAA is reportedly going after Baylor and Art Briles. Here’s what it could actually do.

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The NCAA can punish people who were in charge of Baylor at the time, but might not have the right tools to deal with the school itself.

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Texas v Baylor
Former Baylor coach Art Briles.
Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The NCAA sent Baylor a Notice of Allegations that the school broke NCAA rules in the course of the rape scandal that led to football coach Art Briles’ firing, according to a report in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. We don’t yet have a copy of any documents the NCAA sent the school, but the newspaper says they include two familiar charges:

  • That Baylor’s football program showed a “lack of institutional control”
  • That Briles violated head coach responsibility legislation by not promoting an “atmosphere of compliance” with the NCAA’s rulebook

The school fired Briles in May 2016, 28-plus months before this report. The football team is on its second head coach since Briles; Jim Grobe served as the interim for a full year in 2016, and the school hired Temple coach Matt Rhule before 2017.

NCAA investigations vary widely by timetables, sometimes unfolding over five or more years. It had started to seem like the Baylor case had just faded into the background.

The NCAA’s reported charges against Baylor are as serious as the organization has. They’ve often been precursors to punishments before.

The NCAA calls a lack of institutional control “the worst of NCAA violations.” The organization charges programs, not individuals, with this violation. It means the NCAA thinks a school repeatedly disregarded or hid rule-breaking instead of reporting it. It’s among the NCAA’s Level I violations, the type that garners the harshest punishments.

A head coach responsibility violation is similar, but it comes down on one person. The NCAA rulebook lays out a head coach’s duties:

An institution’s head coach is presumed to be responsible for the actions of all institutional staff members who report, directly or indirectly, to the head coach. An institution’s head coach shall promote an atmosphere of compliance within his or her program and shall monitor the activities of all institutional staff members involved with the program who report, directly or indirectly, to the coach.

In statements after his firing, Briles made vague apologies, but was never clear about for what. He has claimed he’s never “done anything illegal, immoral, or unethical.”

Briles’ players were repeatedly accused of domestic violence during his time leading the team. One lawsuit has alleged 52 rapes committed by football players in four years — all between 2011 and 2014, when Briles was the Bears’ head coach. In one instance, Briles was accused of learning about a gang rape allegation against multiple players of his and failing to report it to the university’s Title IX or judicial affairs office.

The NCAA is not best equipped to punish Baylor itself, for three reasons:

  • The NCAA doesn’t control any of Baylor’s money. The school gets most its outside athletic cash from the Big 12’s television deal. The Big 12 is also the pass-through for bowl revenue from across the conference. (The same is true for NCAA basketball tournament TV money, which goes from the NCAA to leagues to schools.) The NCAA could fine Baylor, but that approach got it into legal trouble with Penn State and was later redirected.

(The Big 12 announced in 2017 that it would withhold 25 percent of Baylor’s conference revenue distributions — at least several million dollars per year — until the school made verifiable changes. The status of that is unclear, but the Big 12 made it sound earlier in the year like the school was close to getting paid in full again.)

  • The main figures in the scandal are gone, pending the NCAA finding out that more people were involved and that those people are still at Baylor. Briles is out of college football. Athletic director Ian McCaw is at Liberty. President Ken Starr is out of educational administration. The entire football staff turned over under Rhule. A bowl ban would punish current Baylor players who didn’t do anything wrong. Scholarship reductions would mean fewer current high schoolers — who were 11 years old when Briles got to Baylor — having their college tuition paid for.
  • And more broadly: the Baylor story is centered on real crimes and those who enabled them. The NCAA has tried to set up its own version of subpoena power and basically be real cops, but the organization’s investigative tendencies shouldn’t exactly make you optimistic that the NCAA will impose justice in the right way, on the right people.

More importantly, the NCAA could do significant damage to individuals who were at Baylor while the scandal unfolded.

Briles still seems really far from getting another college job. A CFL team that tried to hire him in 2017 pulled back after public pressure. He’s turned up periodically in the rumor mill and made an appearance at Browns training camp in 2016. Earlier this year, he made a deal to coach a team in Italy.

The NCAA punishing Briles might not change anything about his future career, but by imposing a show-cause penalty (in which a school would have to argue why it should be allowed to hire Briles), it could make his return impossible, rather than just unlikely, at least for a while.

The NCAA could also choose to punish Liberty athletic director McCaw and any number of Baylor staffers who worked for Briles. Hitting an AD with a show-cause is rare, but has happened at other schools before.

More will be clear when Baylor and the NCAA make their exchange public.

Baylor got the Notice of Allegations sometime in September, the Star-Telegram reported. The university has 90 days from whenever it received the NOA to file its response.