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NCAA: Authority Limited in Baylor Sexual Violence Case

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While the NCAA on Wednesday announced penalties for Baylor providing impermissible benefits to student-athletes, it stopped short of concluding that the school had committed violations related to sexual violence.

A Division I Committee on Infractions hearing panel said it could not conclude that Baylor violated NCAA rules when the school failed to report allegations of and address sexual and interpersonal violence committed on its campus.

The panel did find other violations occurred between 2011 and 2016: impermissible benefits were provided to a football student-athlete who was not reported for failing to meet an academic performance plan following an academic violation and the university operated a predominantly female student-host program that did not align with NCAA recruiting rules. Additionally, a former assistant director of football operations did not meet his obligation to cooperate and violated ethical conduct rules when he did not participate in the investigation.

Penalties in the case include four years of probation, recruiting restrictions, a vacating of records and a five-year show-cause order limiting all athletically related duties for the former assistant director of football operations.

"Baylor admitted to moral and ethical failings in its handling of sexual and interpersonal violence on campus but argued those failings, however egregious, did not constitute violations of NCAA rules. Ultimately, and with tremendous reluctance, this panel agrees," the panel said in its decision. "To arrive at a different outcome would require the [committee] to ignore the rules the Association's membership has adopted — rules under which the [committee] is required to adjudicate. Such an outcome would be antithetical to the integrity of the infractions process."

NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a separate statement that the conduct by some former Baylor administrators, coaches, and student-athletes was “unacceptable and runs counter to the values of the NCAA.” However, Emmert said the NCAA did not have the authority to impose penalties on the school for those failing.

“Schools have taken many steps to address sexual violence on campus, but as the COI points out, the authority of the NCAA in this area is very limited today,” Emmert said. “This is a clear demonstration of why the Association needs transformational change to create alignment between authority and responsibility to address the most critical issues in college sports. The newly formed Constitution Committee is charged to effectuate this change and the membership should vote to do so at our national convention in January."

The panel noted in its decision that the NCAA provides resources to support member schools in carrying out duties to address sexual violence on campus as required by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights and other law enforcement entities. While the former university president described Baylor's handling of sexual violence during this time as a "colossal operational failure," current NCAA rules — as proposed and voted on by member schools — do not call for the Committee on Infractions to adjudicate how schools respond to such issues.

This case primarily involved allegations that Baylor shielded football student-athletes from the school's disciplinary processes and did not report allegations of misconduct by football student-athletes.

The panel considered charges that three specific instances of alleged actual or threatened violence by football student-athletes went unreported by members of the football staff and resulted in impermissible benefits to the involved student-athletes. The panel found that those instances of non-reporting did not constitute impermissible benefits to football student-athletes because of a campus-wide culture of nonreporting. That culture was driven by the school's broader failure to prioritize Title IX implementation, creating an environment in which faculty and staff did not know and/or understand their obligations to report allegations of sexual or interpersonal violence. Because the culture of non-reporting was not limited to cases involving student-athletes, the panel could not find that these instances resulted in impermissible benefits.

The panel also considered allegations related to the school's general student conduct process in which football student-athletes allegedly received special treatment in four instances. However, the panel could not conclude violations occurred in three of those instances, because the record shows that the general student body received the same treatment. As a result, the panel also could not find that the former football head coach failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance or that Baylor lacked intuitional control, largely because those allegations were specifically tied to the underlying allegations that ultimately did not result in violations.

The panel found one NCAA violation occurred within the student conduct process. A student-athlete was suspended due to a plagiarism concern. He submitted an appeal to the president, who overturned the student-athlete's suspension but required as a condition of relief that the student-athlete be subjected to an academic performance plan requiring 100% academic honesty.

A couple of months later, an academic advisor notified football and academic staff members that the student-athlete had cheated on an in-class quiz. However, the incident was not reported to the president as a failure to meet the terms of the student-athlete's reinstatement. As a result, the panel found that Baylor committed a Level II violation when the student-athlete was provided with an impermissible benefit. Due to the nonreporting of this incident, the student-athlete was able to remain enrolled and went on to compete in seven contests while ineligible. 

Additionally, over four academic years, Baylor used a predominantly female student-host group, the Baylor Bruins, for football recruiting events. The Bruins existed separately from the admissions office and were responsible for hosting some alumni events unrelated to football recruiting. However, they also worked many recruiting events, including camps, official visit weekends, junior days and the gameday recruiting room. The Bruins were initially an all-female group, and while the group eventually allowed membership for men, it remained overwhelmingly female. The Bruins dress code remained geared toward female participants, the manual included a line about how all members "had boyfriends" and applicants to the group were required to submit an 8x10 headshot.

"The gender-based nature of this group is especially concerning in light of the campus-wide cultural issues and Title IX deficiencies at Baylor during this time, as well as the extremely troubling assertions reported by the former Title IX coordinator, including that the Bruins were 'kind of at the disposal of football players in a very inappropriate way,'" the panel said in its decision.

NCAA rules require student-host groups to be designated and run in a manner consistent with the recruitment of all prospective students. The panel found that Baylor committed a Level II violation when it used the Bruins as impermissible recruiters.

Finally, the panel concluded that the former assistant director of football operations violated NCAA ethical conduct rules when, following his separation from Baylor, he did not meet his responsibility to cooperate when he did not participate in an interview with enforcement staff.

The committee classified the case as Level II-standard for the school and Level I-standard for the former assistant director of football operations. The committee used the Division I membership-approved infractions penalty guidelines to prescribe the following measures:

  • Four years of probation.
  • A $5,000 fine.
  • A reduction to 30 football official visits during the 2021-22 academic year.
  • A three-week ban on unofficial visits in football during the 2021-22 academic year.
  • A two-week ban on football recruiting communication during the 2021-22 academic year.
  • A reduction of football evaluation days by three during fall 2021 and by 10 during spring 2022.
  • A five-year show-cause order for the former assistant director of football operations. During that period, any NCAA member school employing him must restrict him from any athletically related duties unless it shows cause why the restrictions should not apply.
  • A vacation of all records in which student-athletes competed while ineligible. The university must provide a written report containing the contests impacted to the NCAA media coordination and statistics staff within 14 days of the public release of the decision.

Members of the Committee on Infractions are drawn from the NCAA membership and members of the public. The members of the panel who reviewed this case are Melissa Conboy, senior deputy athletics director at Notre Dame; Stephen Madva, attorney in private practice; Joel Maturi, chief hearing officer for the panel and former Minnesota athletics director; Gary L. Miller, president at Akron; Vincent Nicastro, deputy commissioner and chief operating officer for the Big East Conference; Kay Norton, president emeritus at Northern Colorado; and Sarah Wake, associate general counsel at Northwestern.

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