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Baylor’s bumbling shows why Big 12 should ban troubled transfers

COMMENTARY

In May the presidents of Southeastern Conference schools banned their members from accepting student-athlete transfers with histories of domestic violence or sexual assault.

The Big 12 bosses should copy, paste and approve that resolution immediately.

Baylor is catching coast-to-coast flack today regarding transfer defensive end Sam Ukwuachu. Booted off the Boise State team in 2013 amid rumors of physically assaulting his girlfriend, the player had been in Waco mere months when he was accused of raping a Baylor soccer player in October 2013.

To be clear, Ukwuachu was suspended in 2014 and did not play for the Bears. Then again, for a player facing two counts of sexual assault, suspension is pretty much a best-case scenario. You can bet he didn’t forfeit his scholarship, and the program reportedly allowed him to continue conditioning work at football facilities, a sure sign coaches anticipated his return.

Sure enough, Baylor administrators found nothing incriminating about Ukwuachu’s encounter with the soccer player and cleared him to play in 2015. As recently as June, defensive coordinator Phil Bennett told a luncheon audience that Ukwuachu—once a freshman All-American at Boise—would finally become a part of the Bears’ pass rush.

After Thursday night, that’s not happening. A district court jury in Waco convicted the 22-year-old Ukwuachu of sexual assault.

He faces up to 20 years in prison, and Art Briles faces justifiable scrutiny.

Scrutiny for giving Ukwuachu a second chance when the cloud from his Boise State dismissal was smoldering with information Briles and his staff either ignored or could have found with moderate diligence. And while we’re counting, Briles essentially gave the defensive end a third chance after the violent accusation arose on Baylor’s own campus.

“Our timeline was followed by what the standards were here,” Briles said Friday.

OK, if a coach wants to duck common sense in order to lean on standards, then tighten them. Adopt the SEC proposal, which prohibits giving a scholarship or playing time—or even practice reps—to any transfer who has been “subject to official university of athletics department disciplinary action” during enrollment at any previous collegiate institution “due to serious misconduct.”

The Big 12 should adopt the SEC proposal that prohibits giving a scholarship or playing time—or even practice reps—to any transfer who has been “subject to official university of athletics department disciplinary action” during enrollment at any previous collegiate institution “due to serious misconduct.”

This would have prevented Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops from last year’s ludicrous move of welcoming exiled Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. Even the SEC’s motion came a year too late to stop Nick Saban’s most regrettable move of accepting defensive tackle Jonathan Taylor.

Now it’s Baylor’s turn to broil.

After what allegedly transpired at Boise State, you’ll never convince me Ukwuachu warranted a new opportunity at a higher-profile program with more TV games and a bigger, grander stadium. Nor should he have been able to rehab his reputation at a Division II school, where the safety of female students is no less precious.

Texas Monthly magazine, in a story unveiling much of the information Baylor didn’t care to seek out, provided sickening details from Ukwuachu’s alleged 18-year-old victim in Waco. He drove her to his apartment when she presumed they were headed out to a party. Her screaming “stop and no” as the 6-foot-4 player held her facedown on his bed. A next-day hospital examination that “found vaginal injuries including redness, bleeding, and friction injuries.” (The woman, who claimed she was a virgin at the time of the incident, soon transferred.)

Should Baylor have been wary of signing Ukwuachu? Of course, just as it should be skeptical of any player dismissed from another program.

Texas Monthly contends Baylor had communication in which Boise State officials “expressed reticence about supporting the player’s efforts to get back on the field.” To that end Briles responded Friday: “No. No. That’s not true. Lord, no. No, there’s no truth. Find out who informed us and talk to them, please.”

Briles recounted speaking with then-Broncos head coach Chris Peterson and said he heard “no mention of anything beyond (Ukwuachu) being depressed and needing to come home.”

Peterson, in a response Friday, characterized the conversation much differently:

“I initiated a call with coach Art Briles. In that conversation, I thoroughly apprised Coach Briles of the circumstances surrounding Sam’s disciplinary record and dismissal.”

Was Briles upfront with Baylor’s admissions staff about what Petersen actually conveyed? Were athletics director Ian McCaw and Baylor president Kenneth Starr aware of Ukwuachu’s background and complicit with admitting him anyway?

Was Art Briles upfront with Baylor’s admissions staff about what Boise State coach Chris Petersen said? Were athletics director Ian McCaw and Baylor president Kenneth Starr aware of Ukwuachu’s background and complicit with admitting him anyway?

During Friday’s denial, Briles surmised, “Nobody is going to do that—bring somebody in with a prior conviction or really an allegation.” Yet there was the Baylor staff this summer, forging ahead with plans to play Ukwuachu even as he awaited trial.

College football coaches rightfully claim they have a tough job overseeing 100-plus athletes. Then some make their job tougher by admitting guys with questionable character.

Briles called Ukwuachu’s conviction ”unfortunate for everybody concerned.” Clearly it is most unfortunate for the young woman whose safety was put in peril by Baylor’s misguided search for wins.

* * * * * * *

UPDATE: Late Friday, Ukwuachu was sentenced to 10 years felony probation, 180 days in county jail and ordered to serve 400 hours of community service. … Baylor president Ken Starr called for an internal inquiry into the circumstances and “the conduct of the offices involved.” His review will be led by law professor Jeremy Counseller, a former assistant district attorney.





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