The self-destruction taking place at Baylor can be encapsulated on Page 10 of a Findings of Fact denouncement that triggered a thorough housecleaning.
The sobering words of an outside law firm that investigated the school and its athletic department should scare the bejesus out of college administrators from coast to coast.
Baylor failed to take appropriate action to respond to reports of sexual assault and dating violence reportedly committed by football players. The choices made by football staff and athletics leadership, in some instances, posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University.
Doesn’t get much worse than that.
The path to that ugly disclosure is rooted in findings articulated on that same page in the report.
Leadership challenges and communications issues hindered enforcement of rules and policies, and created a cultural perception that football was above the rules.
Once downtrodden, football became king at Baylor. Just like football is king at many other universities.
In response to firings and forced resignations of Baylor’s now disgraced president, disgraced athletic director and disgraced football coach, some have suggested that a necessary step to recovery is to de-emphasize football. Readjust priorities. Bring some sanity back to college sports.
That’s a noble thought, but how does one un-ring a bell?
Think fans of Alabama, or Ohio State, or Texas, or Oregon or myriad other programs will buy the theory that football is too important, too big and needs to take a step back?
If anything, this unseemly Baylor case and, here locally, ongoing problems inside the Gophers athletic department, reaffirm a salient notion in college sports: Schools better have a strong AD who sets a winning but compliant tone.
College sports have never been more popular, more lucrative or more dog-eat-dog.
Revenue being funneled into athletic departments through media rights, the College Football Playoff and NCAA basketball tournament has made a lot of people rich(er) and increased pressure to win. Win now, win big.
Success can be seductive though, especially for programs that have a history of failure. Art Briles took Baylor from the dumps to the college football penthouse, a turnaround that made fans and alumni more invested in the program and university.
Nothing inflates school spirit — and financial donations — quite like 10-win football seasons.
But at what price? At Baylor, lines blurred and its moral compass spun a different direction. The euphoria of a successful football program overpowered common sense and human decency.
Systemic failure of leadership on any campus will result in crisis. We’ve seen it time and again. That’s why the job of athletic director — and by extension, his boss, the university president — has never been more critical in terms of maintaining order.
College sports are known as a “window to the university.” Some refer to it as the front porch.
An athletic director must serve as a vigilant parent rocking on the front-porch swing, keeping dutiful watch over the operation.
The Gophers, more than ever, need new leader Mark Coyle to become that bedrock.
A strong athletic director doesn’t allow crisis or prosperity to impair judgment. A strong AD has the backbone to say “no” to power coaches, to set clear boundaries, to enforce standards, to hold people accountable — even if victories and donations keep rolling in.
Coaches sometimes become drunk on their power. They can be control freaks. A strong AD knows how to be supportive without abdicating authority.
Yes, college sports are important, and they’re growing rapidly as a business enterprise. That’s not changing. Athletics can remain drivers of a university mission, but athletic departments become ripe for mismanagement when they sell their souls in pursuit of glory.
These recent cases remind me of conversations I had with high-ranking college administrators nationally as the Gophers started their search for a new athletic director after the Norwood Teague fiasco.
The story focused on evolving challenges facing modern athletic directors. I asked nine university presidents and current or former ADs to give their No. 1 criteria if they were hiring an athletic director today.
Five picked the same word: Integrity.
“I wouldn’t put anything above integrity,” Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione said.
“Without a doubt, integrity,” said West Virginia University President Gordon Gee. “As a university president, I want to be able to sleep at night.”
In the absence of that quality, crisis lurks around the corner.