The Firing of Art Briles: A College Football Milestone

In 2007, Art Briles was introduced as the new head football coach at Baylor University. No one knew if it was the right move at the time, but it could not have gotten any worse for Baylor given the Bears’ football team had not put together a winning season since 1995. During Briles’ first couple seasons. there was hope that he might have the ability to turn the program around, signing the recruits that turned out to be stars like Robert Griffin III, Kendall Wright, and Terrance Williams. However, despite all that talent, Briles only went 8-16 in his first two seasons in charge  as his future stars were troubled by injuries.

Eventually, Briles did end up quickly turning around the Bears program. With a healthy RGIII, Baylor had a season of “first in a long time” milestones in 2010. Baylor clinched their first winning season since 1995, played in their first bowl game since 1994, and entered the top 25 for the first time since 1993. In just three short years Briles had turned Baylor into one of the most prominent teams in not only the Big 12, but also in the nation.

While Briles did a great job turning around the Baylor football program, it quickly became clear that he did so with a lack of discipline when it came to his team. In January of 2014, Baylor linebacker Tevin Elliot was sentenced to twenty years in prison for raping fellow Baylor student Jasmin Hernandez (you can read more about her story here). Not long after Elliot was sentenced, another Baylor football player, Sam Ukwuachu, was convicted of sexually assaulting a Baylor women’s soccer player. He served only two months in prison before being released on a $100,000 bond, and he continues to serve his sentence of ten years felony probation. In the time following the conviction of Ukwuachu, a number of other Baylor football players have been accused of violence towards women and sexual assaults.

What does this have to do with Art Briles and the landscape of college football? Baylor just set the standard for how colleges and universities should not address sexual assault within their athletic programs. A report done by Outside the Lines on the sexual assault issues at Baylor revealed that the university failed to comply with a federal directive to hire a Title IX Coordinator for three years. What does that mean? It means that whenever someone reported a sexual assault to the university,  there was no one on campus  who was trained to investigate this type of incident for three years. This led to assaults going uninvestigated, students who were assaulted went without protection, and athletes-who the school knew had  committed assaults-roamed campus freely with no punishment.

Due to Baylor’s lack of action regarding the handling of sexual assaults that were reported on campus, Baylor brought in an external firm, Pepper Hamilton LLP, to investigate how the university handled any cases of alleged sexual assault. The report was worse than anyone could have imagined. It revealed details of sexual assaults involving  members of the Baylor football program that could not just easily be the downfall of a future dynasty, but remain a black mark on the university as a whole for a long time. One of the nails in the coffin when it comes to the university as a whole is the report bringing to light the Baylor administration discouraging complainants from reporting assaults. Even worse, and to unbelievably go one step further,  is an instance where one of the students who reported an assault was actually retaliated against for doing so.

In response, Briles has been fired, University President Ken Starr has been demoted, and Athletic Director Ian McCaw has been sanctioned [Editor’s Note: McCaw resigned as Athletic Director after publication].  Why is what Baylor is doing so important? They have been forced into  the forefront of the issue of sexual assaults on college campuses and are finally taken action to reassure their students that they want that they to do the right thing. The Board of Regents for Baylor University are finally showing their students and the nation that nothing is more important than the health, safety, and well being of their students–not even athletics, at a time when sports seemingly rule the world. Most importantly, Baylor is attempting to stand by their university mission statement and letting the nation know this applies to all students. The Baylor mission statement reads:

“The mission of Baylor University is to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community”

Recognizing that the actions of some of their athletes was not in line with these values, the Baylor Board of Regents have caused an earthquake in the world of college athletics. There are some standards that are more important than winning. This is a lesson that other schools should take notice of, perhaps Florida State. And while other universities, such as Penn State, have attempted to take similar actions after criminal conduct was revealed, Baylor’s actions are different in that Briles’ termination comes in the midst of guiding Baylor to 50 wins in four years. Those are numbers reserved for Saban, Miles, Swinney, Fisher, Meyer, and any other national powerhouse program that can hold onto a coach for more than three years. For a university to remove a head football coach at a time when they are becoming national powerhouse for the first time ever is unprecedented and an important statement about what should be valued most of all.

Will this change the overall culture of college athletics? That will remain to be seen. What we do know is that Baylor has certainly set a standard for other universities to follow. Will they fall in line? Again, that remains to be seen.

I said it once and I’ll say it again: there are some standards that are more important than winning. Creating a campus culture that is free of sexual assault is one of them.

-Justin Clark, Guest Contributor, Follow Him On Twitter @Jclarky021


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