Baylor should cancel its 2016 football season

Whoever said "winning comes at a cost" wasn’t imagining this.

Baylor coach Art Briles is out in what should be just the first wave of firings at the university in the aftermath of the scathing report from the law firm of Pepper Hamilton which looked into the school and athletic department’s handling of sexual assault accusations levied against the Bears football team. 

The soon-to-be-fired Briles is at the center of the story, and for good reason. Briles knew about numerous sexual assault allegations against his players, but he didn’t kick the players off the team or take the men to the proper authorities. That lack of action alone is contemptuous and more than enough to fire him with cause and expediency. 

But Briles didn’t just know and do nothing —€” he actively covered up for his players. 

According to the Pepper Hamilton report, Briles and his staff actively diverted cases from student conduct boards or the criminal process. There was intimidation towards those who levied sexual assault allegations against football players —officials pressuring women to drop the case and avoid shedding a bad light on the program, which went from one of the nation’s worst to one of the nation’s best under Briles. 

No one can claim that Briles did this for any reason other than to keep his players —€” no matter what they did —€” on the field to win football games.

And no one can claim that the Baylor administration or athletic department held Briles, his staff, or his team accountable for those actions until Thursday. 

In short: Baylor sold its soul in exchange for football glory. 

Because of that, Baylor should strongly consider shutting down the Bears’ football program for at least a year. 

The Bears are planning to promote defensive coordinator Phil Bennett to be the school’s interim head coach. So far, no coaches other than Briles have been fired for their role in the cover-ups. Baylor is pretending as if Briles acted alone, in a vacuum, despite the report’s explicit claim he did not. 

Baylor is hoping Briles’ firing is enough of a symbol to the world that they care about what happened and that they want to make it right, but they’re continuing to employ highly paid staff members who not only refused to break ranks and come forward with the damning information released Thursday, but were participants in the reprehensible action. 

It’s clear that Baylor is far away from full accountability. 

Every coach who willingly worked with Briles to cover-up sexual assault allegations or to intimidate accusers needs to be fired for their participation. Whether that’s one staff member or all of them, anyone with a connection to this situation needs to be shown the door. 

If the problem was as widespread as the report indicates, Baylor should be cleaning house at the football facility. That kind of purge puts the football team in a precarious spot heading into a 2016 season where the team was again expected to compete for a national title. 

But the notion that the Baylor football team shouldn’t be disrupted because of this scandal is part of the systematic problems in play at the school.

Ken Starr

Who cares about the 2016 football season? Baylor clearly has a toxic culture that is actively dangerous to women on its campus, and that major problem won’t change by just firing Briles. 

For starters: Baylor, as a whole, needs to revamp its attitude towards alcohol and drug use by students, which the Pepper Hamilton report said created barriers to reporting sexual assault. 

And don’t confuse the release of this report as an act of contrition.  That’s a long, arduous process that will need to start at the highest levels of the school and trickle down —€” how did they enable what was happening, and why did they do it? 

It’ll de difficult to reflect when the season starts in September, and the Bears take the field at McLane Stadium, the $266-million stadium that opened in 2014. The stadium is called "The House That Art Built" and for good reason —€” the building isn’t built if the Bears are still in the basement of the Big 12. 

That building should stay empty for a season as penance. No one is immune from criticism in this scandal —€” including players —€” but Baylor should work with the NCAA to let the Bears athletes that want to transfer from the school leave without having to sit out a year, and let those who want to stay and make Baylor a better place for all students should be given an extra year of eligibility. 

But nothing shy of a full burn is going to bring about meaningful, systematic change at Baylor, and as of Thursday, the flames don’t appear nearly large enough.