Baylor Regents Found Alleged Sexual Assaults by Football Players ‘Horrifying’

Baylor Regents Found Alleged Sexual Assaults by Football Players ‘Horrifying’

The sexual-violence scandal at Baylor University that cost its celebrated football coach his job involved 17 women who reported sexual or domestic assaults involving 19 players, including four alleged gang rapes, since 2011, according to Baylor regents.

Baylor fired coach Art Briles in May for failing to deal with sexual-violence allegations involving his squad, but provided only a vague description of the alleged improprieties at the time. Legions of fans and donors rallied to his cause.

Now, in interviews with The Wall Street Journal, regents who oversee the university are offering for the first time publicly more detailed findings from an outside investigation conducted by Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP. The probe showed some Baylor players allegedly participated in what one regent calls a “horrifying and painful” series of assaults over several years.

In at least one case, Baylor regents said, Mr. Briles knew about an alleged incident and didn’t alert police, the school’s judicial-affairs staff or the Title IX office in charge of coordinating the school’s response to sexual violence.

The disclosures will likely reignite the sexual-assault scandal that for months has swirled around the private Baptist university, which currently boasts the eighth-ranked football team in the country.

Alumni and critics of Baylor’s handling of sexual violence on campus have clamored for more information about why Baylor fired not only Mr. Briles but the school’s high-profile president, former prosecutor Kenneth Starr.

“There was a cultural issue there that was putting winning football games above everything else, including our values,” said J. Cary Gray, a lawyer and member of the Baylor board of regents. More broadly, he said, “we did not have a caring community when it came to these women who reported that they were assaulted. And that is not OK.”

Mr. Gray said he has heard many people defend Mr. Briles as a person and coach who “just wanted to be in the offensive boardroom drawing up plays. That is not the job for the head coach of a college football program. It is a big business. It is a complex organization that involves millions of dollars, and you have got to have an effective CEO in that role.”

Ernest Cannon of Stephenville, Texas, Mr. Briles’s lawyer, said Baylor appeared to be violating a nondisparagement clause that was part of the agreement the coach signed with the school in June in which the sides agreed not to litigate the terms of his departure. Mr. Cannon said Mr. Briles never discouraged any victims from filing claims against players.

Mr. Cannon said he couldn’t respond to Baylor’s latest claims because neither he nor Mr. Briles was given details of the allegations, including what players were allegedly involved and the circumstances of the complaints. Mr. Briles couldn’t be reached for comment.

Mr. Cannon said the regents are trying to hold Mr. Briles responsible for the university’s broader failure to implement a rigorous Title IX program, which has resulted in a raft of litigation unrelated to the football program.

“They are pulling their own house down to justify the mistakes they made,” Mr. Cannon said. “He’s the football coach. That’s not his job [to enforce Title IX]. That’s their job.”

Mr. Briles has acknowledged in television interviews that he made “mistakes” and said that he wants to return to coaching. He is often mentioned as a candidate for high-profile coaching jobs that could be open next year.

Two former Baylor football players have been convicted of sexual assault in the past four years, and a third, Shawn Oakman, is under indictment. He has pleaded not guilty. Baylor also is facing lawsuits from more than a dozen former students alleging the school turned a blind eye to reports of sexual assault over many years. Baylor has declined to comment about those cases.

Mr. Starr, who joined Baylor in 2010, left this summer in what was termed a “mutually agreed separation.” He has criticized the board’s lack of transparency regarding the sexual-assault scandal and has said he was never briefed on the findings the school is now releasing.

The scandal comes amid heightened concerns nationwide about sexual violence on campus. It is especially damaging for Baylor, which has long been a haven for Christian families seeking a sheltered collegiate environment for their sons and daughters. Drinking alcohol and premarital sex are banned by the Baylor student code of conduct.

Mr. Briles took over a downtrodden Baylor football program in 2008 and in less than a decade transformed it into a national power. By 2015, Mr. Briles was making more than $5 million a year, making him the highest-paid Baylor employee. The team, which is undefeated this year under interim coach Jim Grobe, plays rival University of Texas on Saturday.

On May 24, two days before the board said it planned to fire Mr. Briles, he addressed regents in a conference room in an office tower across the Brazos River from the $266 million football stadium that opened in 2014.

Baylor regents said that when Mr. Briles was asked what he would have done differently, he broke down and wept. Many board members began to cry as well.

“He couldn’t speak he was so upset, and all of us were,” Mr. Gray said. “Art said, ‘I delegated down, and I know I shouldn’t have. And I had a system where I was the last to know, and I should have been the first to know.’ ”

Mr. Cannon said Mr. Briles quoted Scripture and expressed his regrets over the painful situation Baylor was in, but didn’t admit to wrongdoing.

The board members said their decision to fire Mr. Briles wasn’t merely because of the school’s requirements under Title IX, the federal law that has increased the requirements on universities to police sexual violence on campus.

“As he heard information, what did he do with it? From a moral standpoint, what is the right thing to do?” said Ron Murff, a Dallas businessman who is chairman of the board of regents.

In one of the alleged gang rapes, the victim, who also was an athlete, told her coach that she didn’t want to go the police. When notified of the allegation, Mr. Briles told the victim’s coach that he hoped she would go to the police, according to people familiar with the matter. One person close to the victim said she viewed Mr. Briles as supportive of her claim. However, Mr. Briles didn’t notify the school’s judicial-affairs office or the Title IX office, these people said.

Baylor regents said that the board reviewed evidence, including text messages and emails between the alleged victims and the players, that supported the sexual-assault accusations, but that the probe didn’t attempt to conclusively substantiate all of the allegations.

In recent months, many prominent Baylor alumni have argued that the school needed to deal with sexual violence better, but that the football program was being unfairly singled out.

“The board panicked,” said Gale Galloway, an Austin businessman and former chairman of the Baylor board of regents.

Earlier this month, Baylor’s former Title IX coordinator, Patty Crawford, resigned from the school and alleged that, before and after the Pepper Hamilton probe, university officials impeded her efforts to tackle what she said was a campuswide issue not isolated to football.

In response to those arguments, Mr. Gray said, “football is just a fraction, but it is a bad fraction.”

Football players were involved in 10.4% of Title IX-reported incidents in the four-year period ending in 2014-15, Baylor said. The U.S. Department of Education said last week it is investigating Ms. Crawford’s complaint.

It is unclear whether Baylor’s additional disclosures will quell alumni dissatisfaction. Mr. Galloway is among a group of well-connected alumni who have met to explore options for changing the way the university is governed, according to people familiar with the matter.

Drayton McLane, a billionaire businessman whose name is on the Baylor football stadium, and other large donors asked the board for a private briefing on why the regents took such drastic action. Mr. Murff, chairman of the regents, declined to give them details of the investigation.

“They were very cold,” Mr. McLane said in an interview, adding that the controversy won’t affect his giving to Baylor and that he “just wants to understand the decisions that were made.”

Mr. Murff said other wealthy alumni suggested they would withhold millions of dollars if Baylor didn’t bring Mr. Briles back.

“It was all about football,” Mr. Murff said. “My response was that we felt like our fiduciary duty was to uphold the mission of the university. That was the primary objective. It was not just to win football games.”

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