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Couch: Former Baylor football coach Art Briles mistakenly believes NCAA’s lack of power exonerates him

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"Completely exonerated." That's the term the attorney of former Baylor football coach Art Briles used this week. The NCAA made a ruling after a six-year investigation into Briles and Baylor football over its sexual assault scandal, the one that led to Briles, Baylor's president, and its athletic director all being run out. And what was the ruling from college sports governing body? That it doesn't have the authority to govern or rule any more.

It seemed like more of an indictment of the NCAA than a release of Briles.

The NCAA said that Briles was so inhuman — my word — that he looked the other way when he received reports of women alleging that they'd been sexually assaulted by his players. It said there was a lack of institutional control in helping assault victims but that the lack of control existed not only in the football program but also the entire university. Baylor officials agreed with all of that.

And yet the NCAA said there was no actual, specific NCAA rule broken in all of that. So, the NCAA couldn't pin anything on Briles or Baylor.

"My client Art Briles has been completely exonerated and cleared of all NCAA violations alleged against him," attorney Scott Tompsett said. "As the NCAA Committee on Infractions explained, the conduct at issue was pervasive and widespread throughout the Baylor campus, and it was condoned or ignored by the highest levels of Baylor's leadership. The NCAA's decision clears the way for Mr. Briles to return to coaching college football."

It's an interesting thing to celebrate, that women were left unprotected campus-wide and that their safety wasn't just ignored by Briles, but also by the entire university. Hooray!

It's an argument that Briles and Baylor football couldn't have done anything heinous because other people on campus were doing heinous things. All parents have heard this argument from their 5-year olds: "My friends are doing it …"

We are in an interesting moment in the American justice system. In this case, college sports is the model. The justice system might be lost.

The social media mob demands swift and timely justice, something resolved in minutes, or 40 seconds on TikTok. Meanwhile, the old style of long, slow, drawn-out justice doesn't work any more. So the NCAA is outdated, ineffectual, and without purpose. Meanwhile, the mainstream media is another institution we no longer trust.

Add it all up, and there are no legitimate watchdogs any more.

Even my good friend Jason Whitlock leans toward siding with Briles. He disagreed with me yesterday on his show, "Fearless with Jason Whitlock," and said it's not fair to lay the problems of an entire university culture on the football team just because it's in the spotlight. He argued that Baylor, trying to pacify the Twitter mob, used Briles as a scapegoat. Put the blame on Briles, give the mob what it wants, and douse the fire. He also said there were questionable aspects of Baylor's own investigation.

There is one reason why it's hard to argue with Jason on that: It's because he's right.

That does not exonerate Briles, not in our new justice system. People aren't desperate to defend Briles out of any sense that he's clean. It's more of a distaste for his accusers, who are part of our institutions. It's a counter-culture attack, not a defense of Briles.

The truth is the NCAA could easily have charged Briles with lack of institutional control and ruled that he could not coach again. Nine years ago, the NCAA ruled hard on the Penn State rape scandal regarding former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The NCAA fined Penn State $60 million and banned it from the postseason for four years. And NCAA president Mark Emmert said that we'd never again put football above education and keeping young people safe.

Then his authority was questioned, his penalties weakened. And the NCAA lost its ability to enforce rules. Emmert, rather than fixing the rules to protect people over the past nine years, has no power or purpose any more. Neither does the NCAA.

Meanwhile, the court system is dragging along on the Baylor case. One former player is in prison. One was convicted and is on probation. Fifteen women have cases pending, all these years later. Baylor hired a law firm to conduct its own investigation and then told that firm to issue its report to the school orally.

No written record. Since then, the alleged victims have been fighting in the courts to get the notes and details of Baylor's investigation. A federal judge ruled that Baylor has to give it all up. Baylor keeps fighting it.

Briles supporters think the report will show that he should be cleared.

Are we really down to saying that a coach has to only stay one inch above the line of the law? A coach should mean more. The Twitter mob, the courts, and the NCAA aren't ever going to get to a reasonable finish line.

It's a battle for loopholes, not truth. Briles needed to go. He built a program from nothing to a national power. The success led to a shiny new stadium, and Baylor's conscience melted under the lights.

The AD and president Ken Starr are gone, too. Briles was the head of a program that everyone acknowledges was out of control and unsafe for young people.

Someone had to take the fall, even if he is "completely exonerated."
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