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Opinion Liberty University’s hiring of ex-Baylor AD sends a chilling message about sexual assault

On Football

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

In the next couple weeks, Ian McCaw’s lawyers are scheduled to respond to a lawsuit by a woman named Jasmin Hernandez. In the suit, Hernandez alleges McCaw, as the athletic director at Baylor, knew a football player named Tevin Elliott had been accused several times of committing sexual assault. She alleges McCaw failed to protect Hernandez before Elliot raped her and showed willful indifference afterward.

Barring a settlement, a jury will determine what culpability McCaw had in both Hernandez’s rape and in an atmosphere that enabled a shocking number of alleged assaults by Baylor football players. In early stages of this litigation, with the ink barely dry on McCaw’s Baylor severance agreement, he landed a new job: Monday afternoon, Liberty University hired McCaw to be its athletic director.

Liberty and its president, Jerry Falwell Jr., hired a man in the midst of ongoing litigation relating to the high-profile disgrace that forced him from his old job. McCaw ran the athletic program in which law firm Pepper Hamilton, tabbed by the school to perform an independent investigation, found “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.”

Evidently, that did not disqualify McCaw from landing the same position at Liberty.

Fifty-three percent of the roughly 15,000 students who attend Liberty University are women. How were they supposed to feel when they woke up Tuesday morning? How should their parents feel?

Liberty’s news release announcing McCaw’s hire touted Baylor’s five national titles, 58 Big 12 championships and six consecutive bowl games for the football team under his watch. For the women on Liberty’s campus — or for the parents whose daughters are there — is that competitive history supposed to matter more than the reason McCaw had to leave Baylor?

“If I had a daughter at Liberty University, I would certainly be concerned,” said Alexander Zalkin, Hernandez’s lawyer. “It almost speaks to this general culture of apathy at universities to this issue. The reason we’re in this mess to begin with is, universities did not take this issue of sexual assault seriously. You have this athletic director who is either incompetent to the way he supervised his program, or worse, I would argue, turned a blind eye. It baffles me that another university would trust him to run their athletic department at this point.”

The hiring of McCaw sent a chilling message to athletic department employees and female students, not only at Baylor, but across the country. American colleges have a sexual assault problem. The U.S. Department of Education has more than 200 open cases into potential mishandling of sexual assault on campuses. The immediate recycling of McCaw underscores the attitudes that enable it to persist.

The NCAA cannot prevent a school from hiring or firing anyone. But it can make hiring a coach or administrator prohibitive. It can slap a “show cause” penalty on coaches, assistants or even, in rare cases, athletic directors. For a set period of time, the NCAA violations the coach incurred travel with the coach to any job he or she takes, unless the school can show cause for why it shouldn’t.

McCaw has received no punishment from the NCAA, which does not comment on pending or potential cases. It is rare, but not unprecedented, for athletic directors to be punished. The most high-profile athletic director to be slapped with a show-cause penalty was Central Florida’s Keith Tribble, whom the NCAA found to be at the center of significant recruiting violations.

McCaw’s rapid resurfacing is particularly nauseating. Falwell excused any role McCaw played in the scandal. He told the Lynchburg News & Advance, “I think [McCaw] was a good man in a place where bad things were going on and decided to remove himself from that atmosphere.”

The release also included this remarkably tone-deaf sentence: “Those in Waco who knew McCaw’s Baylor track record were quick to endorse the choice, even though they wished he had opted to stay at Baylor.”

The release quoted a former athletic director and a member of the Baylor board. Funnily enough, it did not include the opinion of Baylor Board of Regents member J. Cary Gray, who told the Wall Street Journal, “There was a cultural issue there that was putting winning football games above everything else, including our values. We did not have a caring community when it came to these women who reported that they were assaulted. And that is not okay.”

Anyone who knows even the barest details of the Baylor scandal cannot help but be horrified. Yet, in the statement announcing McCaw’s hiring, Falwell said, “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.”

McCaw’s legal culpability in the Baylor scandal — if he has any — has yet to be determined. But knowing what is alleged to have taken place in the athletic department he presided over, and then hearing Falwell’s endorsement, what are the women on Liberty’s campus – what is anyone anywhere – supposed to think?