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Mike Gundy and Art Briles Chose opposite Sides to Err on in Similar Cases



I’ve been thinking about the wild Sam Ukwuachu rape story from Texas Monthly last week, what the fallout will be for Baylor (and other Big 12 teams) and how it relates to Oklahoma State.

How could I not?

I have a daughter. I follow college football. I (loosely) cover the Big 12. There’s so much here. It cuts so deep and runs so contrary to my world. I think the stories we’re most drawn to are the ones that are either most like ours or least. This one obviously falls in the category of the latter.

First things first, Art Briles isn’t getting fired. I know several national columnists have gone scorched earth right out of the gate on Briles and that’s fine, but there’s enough muddy water pooling around all of this that a clear-cut path to a mastermind conspiracy (which is the only thing that could even beg the question) does not exist.

Plus, it’s not even reasonable to think Briles knew and covered up (and continued covering up!) the whole thing. For a sort-of-good defensive player who was transferring from a non-Power Five conference? Come on. That’s wildly outlandish at best.

No, what happened here is what happens a lot of places. Briles (and Baylor) didn’t do due diligence on a dude who badly needed it done. That’s not a crime, but it is an acceptance of the inherent risk that comes with the unknown. A risk that, clearly, extended beyond having a player that was a disruption to your own football team.

Setting all the mayhem aside and talking about where this intersects with football (which is actually the least important part of the story) is where it gets interesting to me. Baylor’s investigation was, according to the Texas Monthly story, not very thorough.

…assistant district attorney Hilary Laborde, who is prosecuting the case, told 54th District Judge Matt Johnson that Baylor’s own investigation into the accusations against Ukwuachu involved interviewing just Ukwuachu, his accuser, and one friend of each, and that the school never saw the rape kit collected by the sexual assault nurse examiner.

The woman Ukwuachu is accused of sexually assaulting went to the hospital and talked to the police on October 20, 2013, the day after the encounter. But after the school’s investigation (so insufficient, according to the court, that the judge sustained a motion from the prosecution to restrict the defense from referencing it during the trial), Baylor took no action to discipline Ukwuachu, even while charges were still pending.

But that was what the school did, not Briles. The head coach did speak on it recently though.

Briles, who spoke with reporters for four minutes before practice Friday morning, said he had no involvement in Baylor’s investigation into the matter. “Our timeline was followed by what the standards were here,” Briles said. “When the incident happened, he’s off the roster. Never played a down for us. So it’s a very unfortunate situation for all concerned. That’s all I’ve got to say about it.”

This is where it gets really tricky for coaches running teams. You can almost never peg situations correctly. In Briles’ mind, he’s going to let everything play out, see if Ukwuachu is proven innocent and if so then allow him back on the team. Innocent until proven guilty, right? Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett even noted that he expected Ukwuachu back on the team this fall!

This looks great (and Briles gets to play the role of heroic rehabilitative coach) if Ukwuachu is innocent. It looks like he’s harboring a felon if Ukwuachu is proven guilty. So that’s a heck of a risk to take for a business the size of Baylor football (let’s not pretend like it’s anything else).

Mike Gundy went the other way with Tyreek Hill last December. Gundy probably cut loose of Tyreek too soon (what if he didn’t do any of it?!) but man, I would rather be on that side of things than the other one.

“I don’t know the ins and outs of everything,” Gundy told the Tulsa World. “In a situation like that we can only go off the information we have, then we make a decision and move forward. I got all the information and was involved with all parties and made the best decision I could for Oklahoma State University, for our team and hopefully ultimately for Tyreek.”

I don’t necessarily blame Briles for his decisions. I think he likes being the hero who helps kids get on their feet and gets lots of Big 12 wins in return. But you better be sure about where you’re slinging your chips. And at least Gundy feigned an effort to collect information. Briles essentially threw his hands up in the air and pled ignorance. That doesn’t play out very well after the fact (how do you “have no involvement with the investigation” after the fact?).

“The decision had to be made, and I was the one who made the decision,” Gundy said. “There’s certain criteria that have to meet in order to be on our football team. It’s such a delicate issue. I feel for the young lady, and I feel for Tyreek. We’ve all been at that age and had disagreements with our girlfriends or whoever it may be. The decision’s not tough. It’s an extremely difficult process to get to the decision. The decision had to be made. It’s one of the most difficult things I have to do as a coach.”

Gundy determined Tyreek was guilty enough to be released. He put himself above the law (in a way) so you can see why Briles (and lots of other coaches) don’t want to do this. It’s a smart thing though, depending on the situation. When it’s not difficult to determine if someone is caught up in the wrong situation, if it’s not complicated, then the decision is, as Gundy said “not tough.” Maybe Ukwuachu’s wasn’t as straightforward, maybe it was. I’m not even sure Briles would know.

I was reminded this morning that Gundy once did something similar to what Briles did. He brought in Chris Collins who pled guilty to sexual assault of a 12-year-old. I’m betting that wouldn’t happen in a post-Ray Rice world, despite the fact that, as Larry Fedora pointed out, it was a complicated situation (the jury was going to let Collins off).

This Baylor incident started in a pre-Ray Rice world and finished in a post-Rice world and that distinction is incredibly important. Rice, as so many have pointed out, taught us that if there are cameras involved, you’re screwed that the world is less OK with violence against women than it used to be. Maybe this get swept under the rug in 1985 or 2005.

Not in 2015.

Gundy realized that with Tyreek at the end of last year which is why he erred on the less risky side even if it meant there was a sliver of a chance that Tyreek was totally innocent. The risk of that was far outweighed by the risk of keeping somebody in the program who (probably) choked his pregnant girlfriend. That sucks for (potentially innocent) players, sure, but such is the fallout from that post-Rice world.

Art Briles won’t lose his job because of this, but I bet he starts erring on the other side.

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