The NCAA infractions committee’s decision against punishing Baylor for its mishandling of sexual assault allegations in a sprawling scandal involving football players was jarring — even to the committee.
Joel Maturi, chief hearing officer, was a member of this committee for eight years. He said that the case was troubling to the panel, consisting of seven people. The crimes being dealt with in legal and other forums were clearly connected to athletics but not on the table for NCAA punishments.
A school association that oversees athletic competition between schools does not have any bylaws that address Baylor’s worst transgressions.
“We all agreed that the conduct was unacceptable. We’ve never had discussions in which we wanted to penalize institutions. We’ve always gone into hearings trying to find out the truth and come to a right and fair conclusion,” Maturi said Wednesday after the committee released its findings in a highly critical 51-page report.
Maturi, who was the former Minnesota athletic director, stated that “Here, there were many of us feeling that there should be a penalty.” “But the truth is, we couldn’t come to that conclusion based upon the bylaws that existed before us.”
In 2016, allegations were made against Baylor that football coaches and staff protected players from punishment, but failed to act on sexual assault and other violence allegations. Infractions committee stated that the question they wrestled with was whether athletes received an “extra benefit” in terms of more lenient treatment than other students. The answer was no.
The NCAA was not able to determine the actual misconduct of the school in handling sexual assault claims.
Experts in legal advice say that this is the best choice for an organization going through dramatic changes. The NCAA, stung earlier this year by a Supreme Court ruling against it in an antitrust case, is looking at ways to decentralize some of its governance. The NCAA has named a 23-member panel to propose changes to its constitution. This sets the stage for major reforms.
NCAA President Mark Emmert alluded to the coming changes in a statement issued after the Baylor decision.
Emmert stated, “This is a clear example of why the association requires transformational change to create alignment among authority and responsibility to address most critical issues in college sport.”
Gabe Feldman, Tulane’s director of the Tulane sports law program, stated that while Baylor’s actions may have been illegal, immoral, and unethical, it doesn’t mean they are NCAA violations.
Feldman stated that the NCAA and other sports governing body on the professional and collegiate levels need to ask themselves the fundamental question: “Do we want our sports bodies to be in a situation where they have the responsibility of enforcing the law?” We have bigger problems if that’s where we are. To enforce the law, we need law enforcement.”
Jo Potuto is a Nebraska law professor and a former chair of the infractions committee. She was also the school’s faculty athlete representative.
She said, “It’s a fundamental misinterpretation of the NCAA’s role.”
Potuto pointed to the NCAA’s attempt to punish Penn State for the Jerry Sandusky scandal as setting a bad precedent with the public.
The NCAA broke from its usual procedures when it handed Penn State a jaw-dropping $60 million penalty, plus postseason bans and scholarship restrictions for the football program. The fine was challenged in court and some of the penalties were rolled back.
Feldman stated that the NCAA does not have the expertise or authority to investigate Title IX claims, as was evident in the Baylor scandal. The question of jurisdiction also came up in an academic misconduct case involving North Carolina four years ago.
Feldman stated that the NCAA is limited in its ability to do certain things, and limited by its rules. The NCAA is not saying that we care more about $1,000 in improper benefits than sexual assault. It is our jurisdiction that covers the improper benefits. These other areas are not covered by the insurance policy.
Linda Livingstone, Baylor’s president since 2017, is part of the NCAA constitutional convention committee. She said that she understood the perception that Baylor was not punished sufficiently by the NCAA. Between 2011 and 2016, the football team was placed on probation for four years due to rules violations, including drug testing and secondary impermissible benefits.
Livingstone stated that Baylor was held responsible in other ways. This could be through the legal process or law enforcement in certain cases, or civil litigation in others. The school’s accreditation body also reviewed the matter. There are still cases with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.
Livingstone stated that while there is some concern about the NCAA process in relation to this, given the way the NCAA bylaws were written, Livingstone believes there are other ways Baylor could be held responsible. He also said that other institutions dealing with similar issues will continue to be held responsible.