Punishment is red meat, and football is our comfort food, but procedure is the green salad of college sports.
It’s not as sexy or as enjoyable to talk about, but it forms the basis of how we can create an environment in which less wrongdoing occurs. Procedure — if crafted creatively and effectively — enables the college sports community to spend less time debating punishments and more time preventing them. In this context, football — that which we all enjoy — can be savored with less guilt and fewer internal misgivings.
There’s too much to say — and feel, and process — at Baylor University in the wake of Thursday’s explosive events. This is the kind of story which is best addressed one issue at a time. Punishment has its place. Football — more precisely referred to as the status of the Baylor program this year — takes a back seat to everything else. For now, though, consider the matter of procedure and its considerable importance.
Remember this: In 2012, every FBS school — more urgently, every school which takes big-time college football seriously — was supposed to have been watching Penn State, looking very carefully at what went wrong, and why, and how. NCAA member schools were supposed to have identified how they needed to tweak and reform their own internal procedures so that “Penn State” could not happen inside their campus gates.
Clearly, the people in power at Baylor were doing something else in 2012.
To an undeniable extent, Baylor flatly spat in the face of procedure. Leaders and administrators didn’t merely do nothing in the attempt to reach out to alleged victims of sexual assault; they sometimes actively worked against the women who expected a fair process. One should also acknowledge that this was hardly a situation in which Baylor employees were the only actors involved in furthering repression and injustice. The Waco Police Department did not do its job. The journalistic outlets whose reporting helped break open this larger story were not based in Waco.
People can ignore even the best procedures — no one will deny that.
However, in the wake of Baylor — an event which plainly shows that the college sports industry has not learned from Penn State — it seems that even more attention must be devoted to the procedural component of college sports governance.
Yes, people in power can ignore procedure. Human beings can and will brush aside laws or guidelines or regulations in the pursuit of power. That will always be the case. There’s no 100-percent solution to these kinds of problems — point conceded.
Yet, there should be something college sports can do. We should be asking our schools — as alumni or as concerned citizens of our respective localities (in which these universities exist) — how procedures can increase the odds of delivering transparency, widespread communication, and a proper distribution of roles and responsibilities throughout FBS universities.
It is easy for me — as someone who has not studied medicine — to be a Twitter Doctor after an athlete is injured.
It is easy for me — as someone who has not studied law — to be a Twitter Lawyer in the midst of a tangled court case.
It is easy for me — as someone who has not worked in academia — to be a Twitter Administrator when a university so clearly loses its procedural (and moral, and ethical) moorings, as Baylor has.
With these points in mind, I’ll try not to be a lawyer or administrator. I’ll try not to suggest that a procedural improvement to a Baylor-level or Penn State-level situation is easily arrived at, and that it would eliminate 99 percent of remaining problems at FBS schools. Selling people on the notion of an “easy fix” creates the impression that the problem isn’t substantial — naturally, I don’t want to go there.
What I can say, though — and not come across as a Twitter Administrator — owns a two-pronged quality:
1) Regardless of the final answers they come up with in this discussion, it is essential that NCAA member schools do indeed gather. Schools, especially at the FBS level, must reconsider the ways in which they — under the umbrella of the NCAA — collectively approach matters of sexual assault and how to report them. It’s not enough for schools to ponder their own procedures in localized, isolated, individual silos. Procedures and the discussions which sharpen them must acquire a communal quality. There’s more to say about this in contexts (and hence, columns) other than this one.
2) While very precise procedures — formulated on a granular level within a larger systemic architecture — demand very detailed discussions by university administrators, one simple conceptual goal should emerge in all cases at all schools: The football coach and his coaching staff must be kept out of the decision making process regarding the viability of recruits, and largely separate from the vetting process for recruits.
Here is one of the most chilling aspects of the Baylor mess, one which also points to a lack of institutional control on the university’s part:
And then there's this… pic.twitter.com/O3a71Vdhsz
— Stephen White (@sgw94) May 26, 2016
This specific point — namely, that coaches should not double as investigators of the players they want to recruit (or play for them, or both) — became a big deal late last summer, when the Sam Ukwuachu case made national news. Art Briles’s conversation with Chris Petersen would have been comical if it wasn’t so cringe-inducing and foolish. Coaches — being no less human than the rest of us — might be good people in non-work contexts, but the pressure of big-time college football is too enormous for coaches to be expected to act in a community’s best interests. The financial incentives associated with winning are too enormous for any system, any university, to either cede or — through neglect — unwittingly enable coaches to be policemen.
Other designated employees within the university must be given that responsibility, for one thing. Second, procedures must require those employees (and departments) to notify enough other people that a web of responsibility is created. From this web of responsibility and public (shared) knowledge, more effective safeguards could emerge.
Again, the finer details of a (layered) procedure aren’t easy to arrive at, and no one should give the impression that they are.
However, the concepts promoted and reinforced by a given set of procedures should be easy to agree on. At the top of the list: making sure coaches — Joe Paterno for many years, Art Briles for the past several years — no longer inhabit an inherent conflict-of-interest position which incentivizes highly immoral and unethical conduct in the service of football wins.
If NCAA member schools can get serious about communal action with streamlined procedures, and then achieve that one fundamental goal regarding the centrality of coaches in the investigation of their own recruits or players, the college sports industry will have used the Baylor disaster for good.
That is the point of all this, of course — to get better, to be better, as a society.
Let’s see if NCAA member schools take this matter seriously.