Despite concluding that it had a "campus-wide culture of sexual violence," the NCAA said it will not penalize Baylor University after officials failed to report sexual assault claims against football players between 2010 and 2015.
The ruling is the culmination of a five-year investigation undertaken by the NCAA following the eruption of the sexual assault scandal at the private Christian university in Waco, Texas, in 2016.
"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 NCAA rules," the NCAA panel investigating Baylor said in its decision. "Ultimately, and with tremendous reluctance, this panel agrees."
The NCAA did cite Baylor for several violations of collegiate athletic rules, however, and imposed a penalty on the university that includes four years of probation and a $5,000 fine.
The sexual assault scandal at Baylor
In the early 2010s, several Baylor University football players and other male students were accused of sexually assaulting women.
Football players, including Tevin Elliott and Sam Ukwuachu, were convicted and sentenced to time behind bars. Another student who was not on the football team, former fraternity president Jacob Walter Anderson, pleaded guilty to unlawful restraint and received deferred probation.
As a pattern emerged, Baylor hired the law firm Pepper Hamilton to review how the university responded to reports of sexual violence. The firm's report concluded that Baylor failed to properly implement Title IX, which bars sex discrimination in education, and that some officials discouraged complaints, even retaliating against those who lodged them.
The school fired Art Briles, then head coach of the football team. Later, Baylor University President Ken Starr — known for leading the Whitewater investigation involving the Clinton family in the 1990s — also resigned due to the sexual assault scandal.
Why didn't the NCAA punish the university for the scandal?
In the decision released this week, the NCAA said the culture of sexual violence and a lack of accountability spanned the entire Baylor University campus — both inside athletics and out.
The panel said that because football players didn't receive any preferential treatment when it came to sexual assault claims, it couldn't penalize Baylor for failing to act.
"Schools have taken many steps to address sexual violence on campus, but as the [Committee on Infractions] points out, the authority of the NCAA in this area is very limited today," said NCAA President Mark Emmert in a statement. "This is a clear demonstration of why the Association needs transformational change to create alignment between authority and responsibility to address the most critical issues in college sports."
In a statement, Baylor University President Linda Livingstone and Vice President and Director of Athletics Mack Rhoades said the school "acknowledged its significant and moral failings related to sexual and interpersonal violence" during the course of the investigation.
They added that the university acknowledged it committed some violations of NCAA rules and would accept responsibility.
"We must remember that the prospect of NCAA penalties pales in comparison to the suffering of the survivors of such horrific assaults," the statement said.
One of the violations detailed by the NCAA was that the university ran a mostly female student-host group, the Baylor Bruins, for football recruiting events. The school also did not report a student-athlete for a subsequent academic violation.
A former assistant director of football operations was also found to have violated NCAA rules when he failed to participate in an interview with enforcement staff.