Saturday, November 26, 2016

On the 2016 Baylor Football Season

This blog will not be my usual religious and/or political thought, movie review, or philosophical meandering. It is instead a commentary on a situation that will only matter to a select subset of the readers of my blog.

I am a Baylor football fan.

I watched my Baylor Bears play a terrible football game yesterday. It was their second terrible performance in a row, their third awful performance in the last four, and their fifth loss in a row. They are very likely to lose a sixth in a row to conclude the season next week; I hope it is not with another terrible performance.

The background story is well-known - certainly to the subset of my blog readers who are still reading this one - so I will not belabor it. Instead, I want to offer thoughts.

Back in May, the day after Art Briles was fired, I wrote the following on my Facebook post:

Baylor - The Day After
Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that I love the Lord, love my family, love practicing law, love writing, love Baylor University, and love Baylor sports. I try very hard to keep it in that order.
I do not have any inside information. I have precisely the same facts and data that anyone else who cares to read the Pepper Hamilton report and do some basic Googling has or can have. I have withheld judgment because I knew I did not have all the facts, and I understood the University's reluctance to discuss too much private information publicly. Now, however, we have the findings of the law firm, and the time for withholding judgment is past.
Here are my thoughts at the moment. They are still developing.
1. I have a daughter at Baylor. I have female students at Baylor. I have any number of friends with daughters at Baylor. I know many Baylor coeds through my kids. Baylor simply must be a safe place.
2. That multiple sexual assaults occurred is awful and inexcusable. My heart breaks for the victims.
3. That the football program did not comply with the law is inexcusable. That the football program did not comply with Baylor policy - such as it was - is inexcusable.
4. The university's policies in place for dealing with the reality of college students - football players or otherwise - in the 21st century were naive. Those policies have evolved, and the Regents' action indicates a push for them to continue to evolve to the very cutting edge. We can debate the politics of Title IX and "in loco parentis" and government regulation all we want, but the University has legal responsibilities here, and it is now stepping up to them in what appears to me to be a first rate way.
5. The critics who say "why didn't Baylor act sooner" of course have a point, but hiring a preeminent national law firm with no ties to Baylor, giving that firm complete access, waiting for that firm to compile evidence and report, digesting that report, and then acting on it seem to me to be reasonable steps under these circumstances.
6. Self-congratulatory Facebook posts of "look how brilliantly and clearly we responded" are offset by the brutal attacks I am reading and hearing to the effect, to quote the Houston Chronicle, of "no school deserves it more." Neither extreme is credible.
7. Baylor is much more than the sum of its parts. I have barely met Coach Briles, know Judge Starr only slightly better, and have no contact at all with McCaw, but I am confident in saying that they are people who work, or worked, for Baylor but do not constitute the Baylor I know. I know Baylor too well. The Regents are also not Baylor, but they appear to be trying to reach for Baylor's truest vision and purpose, and for that they deserve some appreciation.
8. I am justifiably ashamed that these events happened on and around the campus that has meant and still means so much to me.
9. I am justifiably proud that Baylor has stepped up - as no university that I know of has - to make clear the priority of student safety, following the law, and doing the right thing over winning football games.
10. Complaints about the overreach of Title IX, "why did those girls get in those situations," "when you win they are all out to get you," "this happens everywhere," and "the media/ESPN caused an overreaction" are all irrelevant, or at least not important in the moment, whether they are true or not. The law is the law, and it must be followed unless and until it is changed. Victim-blaming is always tenuous but is completely out of place when your process does not allow for victims to be treated with fairness and respect in the first place. The sports-page analysis is so secondary to the issues here that it can be addressed months from now.
I am sure we will learn more - both good and bad - in the coming weeks. The NCAA will do whatever the NCAA will do.
I am so sorry for the victims - the assaulted, the innocent caught up in the shrapnel, and the many who do so much good for, in, and through Baylor whose name and reputation will be affected by the actions of the few.
With great power comes great responsibility. With money and exposure and fame and adulation comes even greater responsibility. Regardless of from where the attacks have come - and here they have come more from within than from without - Baylor is better than this.
It is time to take our medicine.
Sometimes the way to light the ways of time is to stand up and be responsible for what you have done, or allowed, or encouraged.
I will still go to the football games and fling my green and gold afar. I believe we can win the right way and don't need criminals on the team to do it. I guess we will see.

Now, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, six months later, I add these thoughts.

1. To Those Who Criticize the Board of Regents - How can you possibly have enough information to know that what they did was wrong? The information presented was devastating and damning. I know we don't know everything. I know that many of you are crying out for the university to pay the law firm to write up a tell-all for the world to read. To what end? Are you so distrustful that you believe that Coach Briles was innocent and that the Regents are hiding something that will prove their own fault? Really? Are you suddenly an expert in how to run a multi-million dollar enterprise like Baylor? Are you an expert in how to delegate responsibility to a university administration, especially one run by a non-educator who believes (perhaps rightly) that he is one of the smartest men on the planet? Did you ever seek "full disclosure" of information upon which the Regents acted before, whether it was in the firing of a president or the building of a stadium or the addition of a degree or the determination of campus rules? Calls for "transparency" and "reform" are ringing through cyberspace with no detail at all. What do you really want? Why are you in a rush to "drain the swamp" as though the Board of Regents were Tammany Hall?

(Footnote - the number of my Facebook friends who publish these criticisms who also publish or published multiple pro-Donald Trump messages is interesting.)

I understand the seeking of a scapegoat, but I ask you to consider what the Regents did. They reacted in the name of campus safety, Christian values, and the good name of the university.

Is winning football games really more important?

I am not naive. I know that winning games has helped Baylor's image. I know that Coach Briles is largely responsible for that new stadium. I know he deserves a lot of credit for increased applications, enrollments, and giving - although I give Robert Griffin at least as much credit. But Baylor is Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana, not Pro Football.

Do you believe that Coach Briles got a raw deal? Really? After all we know now, are you still willing to say that criminal acts by multiple football players are not at some level the responsibility of the head man, the man who intentionally brought to campus players with a sketchy history because he (admirably) thought he could help them find the straight and narrow? After all we know about the choices made and the messages sent to complaining students?

Was firing the coach going too far? Maybe. Maybe a one-year suspension without pay would have been the right answer. But if so, we are now arguing about the fine points of personnel policy, and if those of us with extremely limited information are going to start micro-managing those decisions, that is the beginning of the end.

I do not know many of the Regents, but the ones I do know are honorable and smart - some brilliant - people who have the best interests of Baylor and the cause of Christ as their goals. If they made mistakes, they did so honestly and with the best of intentions. It is time for folks to get off their backs.

2. To Those Who Criticize the University for Continuing to Play Football - Why punish the innocent? I have Facebook friends - some of whom are alumni and close friends of mine - who have jumped on the Paul Finebaum bandwagon, thrown up their hands in disgust, and declared by all that's holy that the only decent thing to do is to self-impose the Death Penalty in some glorious penitential conflagration. From the Finebaums and others who don't know or who hate Baylor - including graduates of other nearby schools - these pleas come across not as well-thought-out analyses but rather as gleeful chances to point fingers and dance in the ashes. When they come from alums, they sound like embarrassment and disaffection. Either way, they make no sense to me. Baylor has taken more steps in the face of these events than any major-college-football university in history - the head coach, athletic director, and president are gone; signees were voluntarily released from their letters of intent (I don't see UT, LSU, or anybody else with a coaching change doing that); and the university has very publicly stated that football prowess takes a back seat at Baylor to safety and doing the right thing.

Are you really so caught up in the politically correct media-approved response that you would throw the Bears out with the bathwater?

(Footnote - the number of my Facebook friends who publish these criticisms who also publish or published multiple pro-Hillary Clinton messages is interesting.)

3. To the Assistant Coaches - You should be ashamed of yourselves. I do not know any of you, and I am assuming that you are all upstanding, honorable men. I am happy to dismiss the two very unfortunate social media posts by one coach's wife as the frustrations of a good person whose father, husband, and brother are all central players in this. You have been asked to work with and for Coach Grobe, who by all accounts is a good guy thrown into an impossible situation, but you did not sign up for him and did not know him, so of course that was tough for you too. Your loyalty to Coach Briles is commendable and to be expected.

I don't know how much responsibility, if any, any of you bears with regard to the criminal situation. The Regents blamed the non-football side of the house that reported to Coach Briles, and you were spared. So I am not willing to assume you knew more and did nothing, or worse, you helped to shush the victims ... although those accusations are certainly out there.

I am not, however, willing to dismiss the incredible destructiveness of the Friday Night Massacre before the TCU game. I am not willing to dismiss the poor taste of the money-bag-emoji Tweets after getting bowl eligibility, especially when you cannot lead the team to a single further victory. I have watched these players in every game (albeit one game on TV), and they are not under the same direction they were earlier in the year. That is on you. Nobody blames the players, at least primarily.

And if any of you dares to say a word against the school or decry how you have been treated - again, I am giving the one coach's wife a pass on her tweets - I will not be willing to dismiss your public disdain for the university, which kept you under very trying circumstances when it had absolutely no obligation to do so. For you to speak badly of Baylor now - especially in light of your lousy performance - would be beyond the pale.

4. To the Fair Weather Baylor Fans - I really do not get it. We sat through - and generally enjoyed and rooted for - years of mediocre-to-decent football punctuated by a few really good (i.e. 8-3) years under Coach Teaff, whom we consider a hero. We sat through - and rooted for, even if we did not enjoy - years after that of truly bad teams. We saw losses to UNLV and North Texas and Army. We cheered when we beat A&M in overtime or upset Texas. We struggled through years of Big XII doormat status. Now, after six bowls in a row, you suddenly have changed personalities? You now care more about how many uniform combinations and 70-point games the Bears can muster than with what kind of kids we are developing? You now are going to leave the Kansas State game at halftime trailing by a touchdown because the temperature is in the 50s?

You ought to be ashamed. If you thought you were helping to create a big-time college football powerhouse, you have a lot to learn. Watch Michigan State fans today, as their team is finishing a three win season. Watch Ole Miss fans as their team, once ranked in the Top 5, flames out and misses a bowl. See how those fans react to their teams next year.

5. Finally, to the Baylor Administration, Regents, and All Who Fancy Themselves Leaders or Influencers of Baylor - Winning is great. I love to brag about my team. But the essence of Baylor is better, and I will brag about my school as long as we stand for the right thing. You are not led by the media, by the boosters, by the editorialists, or by the Playoff Committee. Your Leader is far more important, and most of us are following the same Leader. We are marching with you.

Let's all take a deep breath, fix what is broken, and remain thankful that there is a Baylor who seeks to follow Christ and educate our students in a full-scale university that plays Big XII sports and teaches our kids how to live and lead in the world. There are plenty of Bible schools and plenty of football factories, and God bless them if that is what they want to be. We have never been either one, and I don't really think we want to start being either now.