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Big 12 needs to sprout enforcement teeth in wake of Baylor scandal(s)

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks to the media during the Big 12 Media Days in Dallas.



DALLAS, Texas — The Big 12 must expand, and I’m not talking about growing its membership.

Rather, the league must expand its jurisdiction over policing its current members.

The more this Baylor football scandal drags down the league’s reputation, the more Bob Bowlsby must balance crisis management, public relations and discipline.

That’s a tough juggle for Bowlsby, an administrator whose measured tones make John Kerry sound like Gilbert Gottfried. And if Monday’s keynote address at Big 12 media days proved one point about the commissioner, it was this: He’s no juggler.

Shortly after 9 a.m. Bowlsby proclaimed that, “Baylor has been very forthcoming and I don’t have any doubt that they will continue to be forthcoming.”

(This was news to us, considering Big 12 leaders twice requested Baylor provide a “full accounting” of how sexual assault charges against players were covered up.)

Less than five minutes later, when asked to clarify how Baylor has been forthcoming, Bowlsby answered, “That’s not quite what I said.”

Well, yes, it was precisely what he said. (What better day for the Big 12 to trot out enhanced instant replay?)

Then Bowlsby clarified that he intended to say Baylor officials “have been cooperative, but we’re not done with the process.”

“Cooperative” in this instance means Baylor has repeated its sketchy contention that there is no comprehensive written version of the Pepper Hamilton report, at least nothing beyond the summary released in May.

“What we have in writing is what you have in writing,” said Bowlsby, who minutes later tossed in the addendum, “We already have more (information) than the public on an oral basis.”

What? So now the conference engages in a semantics tug-of-war over what was written versus what was spoken? That’s a frustrating aside for such a grave issue of public safety at Baylor.

As the media skewered Bowlsby’s logical merry-go-round Monday, he was caught in another lose-lose crevice when asked how he felt “as a dad who has daughters” about implicated Baylor assistant coaches remaining on staff.

“I don’t know that I can adequately address that,” he replied, “because I know what you know.”

Thus, from intimately informed to slightly informed to virtually uninformed he went, a kickoff speech that gave everyone concussion-like symptoms. A 13th data point, by comparison, seemed like a fine topic.

As a private institution, Baylor is less compelled toward transparency. And with civil litigation pending, Baylor is even more bunkered down.

Maybe the league should dictate that all member schools be subject to the same level of FOIA access. If that’s too radical for Baylor, TCU or other private school expansion candidates, well, then they can enjoy flying their C-USA flag.

This is where the Big 12 must sprout some teeth and ramp up its punitive strength. If Baylor’s third scandal in 16 years has cast such a negative shadow on the conference, why not allow its affected peers to consider some “home rule” justice beyond the NCAA’s slow-moving reaction.

Some have advocated expelling Baylor from the Big 12 altogether, though we’re probably a couple more scandals away from that possibility.

Instead, how about docking Baylor’s league payout by 50 percent, 75 percent or, if the misdeeds prove egregious enough, seize the whole caboodle for a year? Donate some of the withheld funds to victims or an assault prevention campaign, and split the remainder among the remaining nine schools.

Perhaps the Big 12 should force Baylor football to play an all-road league schedule over the next two years? (This comes with the unintended perk of encouraging the Bears to actually schedule somebody in the nonconference.)

Obviously, none of these will be imposed retroactively, just as history—and those assaults—can’t be undone. Moving forward, though, programs who don’t perform due diligence on recruits, or schools who exercise corrupt judgment after recruits run afoul, should face the wrath of their neighbors.

“I wouldn’t say that anything’s on the table, and I wouldn’t say anything’s off the table,” Bowlsby said regarding potential punishments Big 12 presidents could discuss Tuesday. “The board has a wide array of prerogatives.”

Bowlsby remained cautious, guarding against characterizing what those prerogatives might be, which seems an awfully neutered stance for the Big 12’s public face. Sometimes you get the vibe he wants to decry Baylor for the collateral damage it has inflicted; other times Bowlsby seems as powerless as those victims in Waco.

Does Bowlsby’s public persona belie a bulldog behind the scenes? Is he a leader, an advisor, a consensus-builder?

“There are certainly those among our board … that have felt the image of the Big 12 and the other members of the Big 12 have been sullied.”

On a day when Bowlsby struggled to produce a coherent script, those words were the most indubitable.

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