Liberty and Baylor both identify strongly with the Baptist faith, and Monday’s announcement included these comments from McCaw: “Liberty to me represents a pinnacle of professional and personal opportunity where we’re going to be able to develop champions for Christ, develop a world-class student athlete experience, and achieve victory with integrity. We certainly want Christian student-athletes to grow up dreaming of competing for Liberty University.”
Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty’s president, had this to say: “Ian’s success really speaks for itself. You look at what Baylor was able to do during his tenure, it fits perfectly with where we see our sports programs going. This is an exciting time for us.”
In 13 years at Baylor, the school noted, McCaw’s Bears won five national titles and more than 50 Big 12 conference championships, and the formerly downtrodden football program “reached bowl games in six consecutive years for the first time in school history.” That program has also included 19 players reported by 17 women for incidents of domestic violence and/or sexual assault since 2011, and Baylor is facing multiple federal lawsuits over what women say was its policy of ignoring, if not actively suppressing, their accusations.
That depiction of the school’s approach was corroborated by the findings of an outside law firm hired by Baylor in the spring. In May, the report by Pepper Hamilton found “specific failings within both the football program and athletics department leadership, including a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player, to take action in response to reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, and to take action in response to a report of dating violence.”
In the wake of that report, McCaw was sanctioned by Baylor and placed on probation. He resigned shortly thereafter, saying in a statement, “After much reflection and prayer, I have decided that a change in athletics department leadership is in Baylor University’s best interest in order to promote the unity, healing and restoration that must occur in order to move forward.”
Earlier this month, Baylor released a statement claiming that McCaw and Briles were among several members of the athletic department who failed to act upon being informed in 2013 that a female student-athlete had reported being gang-raped by five football players. Baylor said that, in 2015, McCaw initially denied having had knowledge of the student-athlete’s allegations, but then he subsequently acknowledged that her coach had told him in 2013. The school claimed that McCaw said he thought the victim did not wish to report the rape. A group of assistant coaches at Baylor, including the son of Briles, is disputing the school’s version of those events.
As it turns out, Liberty’s football team opens its 2017 season at Baylor. Beyond that, McCaw said in the school’s announcement that he aims to help Liberty put together a big-time football program. “While we’re proud members of the Big South,” he said, “we want to build this program to compete at the highest level nationally.”
“My vision for Liberty is to position it as a pre-eminent Christian athletic program in America and garner the same type of appeal among the Christian community as Notre Dame achieves among the Catholic community and BYU garners from the Mormons,” McCaw said Monday at his introductory news conference.