The whole mess at Baylor University — primarily the presumptive firing of head football coach Art Briles, the ouster of school president Ken Starr, and the disturbing allegations of sexual-misconduct among athletes — should serve as a major wake-up call for big-time athletic programs throughout the country.
Except the University of Tennessee.
For the Volunteers’ embattled program, they have traveled far enough down that ‘allegations’ road to suddenly use Baylor’s debacle as an excuse, qualifier, rationalization or teaching point.
In fact, at this stage, especially for Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones, it may be a simple case of full exoneration or unemployment.
This is how the media game works: Once the Baylor situation has been picked clean through investigative journalism (and social-media innuendo), the perpetually moving media machine will then turn its collective attention to Tennessee and the various allegations of impropriety within the Vols program.
And for UT’s sake, I hope the school is fully prepared to handle the inevitable torrent of scrutiny that’s headed for the Knoxville area.
In short, we’re talking about serious claims of sexual misconduct, brought on by handfuls of individuals and involving multiple players. Secondary concerns have also been raised, regarding the way Tennessee administrators and coaches handled certain crisis points (separate from the ‘traitor’ dustup).
“The facts, as opposed to allegations in a complaint, will demonstrate that the University acted properly in the matters at issue,” said school attorney Bill Ramsey back in late February, citing a prepared statement. “We have continuously worked hard to improve our processes and our procedures to ensure that we are doing all that we can to prevent incidents of assault, to support victims of assault and to pursue justice while ensuring due process for those accused. We will vigorously defend all claims in the amended complaint.”
No one doubts that Tennessee will vigorously defend the various allegations levied against the school and athletic program. But it’s fair to wonder if these groups will be fully transparent with the findings from prior investigations; and as we learned in the Baylor case, ‘response time’ to these alleged incidents holds significant meaning, when judging the leadership acumen of coaches.
Personally, I don’t know how college head coaches sleep at night.
These men and women, covering numerous varsity sports, are inherently responsible for the lives and well-being of players and support staff. It’s a 24/7/365 job for these leaders (and low-paying for most), keeping constant tabs on their student-athletes, knowing the next crisis situation is just a late-night phone call away.
But with great power and prominence … comes an even greater responsibility to show compassion, especially in times of turmoil and despair.
Which brings us to the case of Jones:
It’s cool that Jones has brought success back to the football program, in terms of collecting victories (consecutive winning seasons), generating revenue, contending for division titles (SEC East favorites in 2016) and stocking the Volunteers’ depth chart with blue-chip recruits.
However, none of the above should mean anything, if certain investigative units ever learn that Tennessee, under Jones’ watch, prioritized criminal indifference over compliance.
It’s that simple.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and Fox Sports.