Baylor University, where sexual assault was a horrifying norm inside the football program in the 2010s, did not break N.C.A.A. rules when it failed to report allegations of wrongdoing, the association concluded on Wednesday.
“Baylor admitted to moral and ethical failings in its handling of sexual and interpersonal violence on campus but argued those failings, however egregious, did not constitute violations of N.C.A.A. rules,” an association committee wrote in a ruling released on Wednesday. “Ultimately, and with tremendous reluctance, this panel agrees.”
A different outcome, the committee said, would have required the panel “to ignore the rules the association’s membership has adopted,” something that it wrote would be “antithetical to the integrity of the infractions process.”
The association’s decision came more than five years after a law firm hired by the university concluded that leaders of Baylor’s football program sometimes “affirmatively chose not to report sexual violence” to the appropriate authorities and that team officials had moved to “divert cases from the student conduct or criminal processes.”
The law firm's findings found problems throughout the university and ultimately led to the resignations or firings of the university’s president, Ken Starr; its football coach, Art Briles; and the athletic director, Ian McCaw. The N.C.A.A. delivered a notice of allegations, which is the college sports industry’s equivalent of an indictment, to Baylor in 2018.
On Wednesday, though, the N.C.A.A. inquiry ended with only a handful of violations involving academic and recruiting rules. The penalties that the committee imposed for those offenses included four years of probation.
In addition to the scrutiny by the N.C.A.A., Baylor has faced a criminal inquiry and a wave of civil litigation related to the sexual assaults. Baylor prevailed in one of those cases in June, when a jury in Houston concluded that, under a state law, the university was not responsible for the sexual assault of a woman in 2017.
But Baylor has been penalized in other ways. In October, for instance, the U.S. Department of Education fined the university more than $461,000 in connection with violations of a federal law that governs campus crime statistics. The university has also reached settlements with some women who brought claims under Title IX, the federal law that effectively prohibits sexual harassment and assault in educational settings.
Although the N.C.A.A. has generally focused its enforcement power on more anodyne issues of college sports, it has previously intervened in allegations of sexual misconduct.
In 2012, the association fined Penn State $60 million and banned its football program from the postseason for four years because of its handling of the child sexual abuse scandal that involved Jerry Sandusky, a longtime assistant coach. At the time, the association’s president, Mark Emmert, said that football would “never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people.”
About two years later, after sustained criticism that it had overreached, the association reduced some of the penalties, including the postseason restrictions, because of what officials said they regarded as the university’s good behavior.
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