Enveloped by uncertainty, Baylor’s football program is facing the possibility of a lost season, NCAA sanctions and the program slipping back toward the losing ways that predated Art Briles’ tenure as coach.
The university board of regents began the process of firing Briles on Thursday as it released some of the findings of a scathing report that accused the coach and other university leaders of not responding or inappropriately handling allegations of sexual assault.
Kenneth Starr was also demoted from his role as university president, and athletic director Ian McCaw was put on probation. But the ramifications of the scandal will linger at Baylor, possibly for years.
The first task is finding a coach.
The recent history of schools that have had coaching upheaval at this time of year suggests Baylor, which was expected to contend for another Big 12 title, could be in for a tough go on the field.
After Ohio State dismissed coach Jim Tressel in May 2011 for lying to NCAA investigators, defensive coordinator Luke Fickell was made interim head coach and OSU went on to finish 6-7.
A scandal involving assistant coaches and agents led to Butch Davis being fired by North Carolina in July 2011, and the Tar Heels finished 7-6 under interim coach Everett Withers.
Then-Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino was fired for lying to his boss about an affair he was having with a member of the football staff after getting into a motorcycle accident in April 2012. A Razorbacks team with high hopes ended up finishing 4-8 under interim coach and former Michigan State coach John L. Smith.
Bill Carr of CarrSports Consulting, a firm that works with schools on coaching searches, said Baylor is best off taking a short-term approach for the 2016 season.
“Baylor was unlikely to find a long-term remedy in the next 30 days,” said Carr, the former athletic director at the University of Houston and the University of Florida.
Retaining Bennett and other Briles assistants could be seen as a curious choice. The law firm Pepper Hamilton, in its report on Baylor’s handling of sexual assault allegations, stated football staff members other than Briles were involved in inappropriate investigations and withholding information from the university.
But trying to bring a new staff into such a volatile situation at this time of the year would be an almost impossible task.
“Extraordinarily difficult situation,” Carr said.
That could include NCAA involvement. Baylor regents said school officials have been in contact with the NCAA, and that the law firm Bond, Schoenech & King has been hired to handle potential NCAA matters.
“I think at this point in time, I’m not seeing any outward NCAA violations,” said David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University with experience in NCAA compliance.
Ridpath said the NCAA might be able to deem players received extra benefits in the form of special treatment by the athletic department or law enforcement. However, Ridpath said he can’t recall a similar past NCAA investigation.
The NCAA sanctioned Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal, but in a way that was unprecedented and far removed from its usual procedures. The NCAA eventually rolled back massive sanctions against Penn State, reducing a four-year bowl ban to two years and restoring dozens of scholarships that were docked.
Even if Baylor avoids NCAA sanctions, turmoil and uncertainty are obstacles on the recruiting trail.
The coaching turnover alone will put the Bears at a serious disadvantage against their competitors this year.