Following the conviction and sentencing of Baylor defensive end Sam Ukwuachu on sexual assault charges, social media has been lit up with scrutiny for the Bears’ football program and head coach Art Briles.
Ukwuachu was dismissed from Boise State in 2013 for what was officially labeled violations of team policies. He almost immediately announced his transfer to Baylor. He sat out the 2014 season per the transfer rules. In October of that year he was accused of sexually assaulting a Baylor women’s soccer player. The school launched an internal investigation and found nothing warranting any disciplinary action, but in June of 2015 he was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of felony sexual assault. He was convicted by a jury on Thursday and on Friday the judge sentenced him to 180 days in jail followed by 10 years of probation. The jury had recommended that he receive eight years in prison but that the sentence be probated.
Baylor Football Under Siege In The Ukwuachu Case
The story now actually has two distinct sides of opinion with several nuanced circumstances thrown in for good measure. When the trial and subsequent conviction gained public notoriety, Briles was asked what he knew about Ukwuachu’s troubled past at Boise State, and the reasons for then-Broncos-coach Chris Petersen kicking him off the team. Briles claimed Friday morning that he had talked to Petersen about the 2012 All American defensive end, but that the two never discussed any violent history occurring at Boise State. As soon as sports writers had finished hitting “send” on their articles, Petersen, now the head coach at Washington, fired off a definitive response in which he said that he called Briles and warned him about Ukwuachu’s situation at Boise State. “After Sam Ukwuachu was dismissed from the Boise State football program and expressed an interest in transferring to Baylor, I initiated a call with Coach Art Briles. In that conversation, I thoroughly apprised Coach Briles of the circumstances surrounding Sam’s disciplinary action and dismissal.”
The circumstances that Petersen references stem from a 2013 incident in which Ukwuachu put his fist through a window at the home he shared with his girlfriend and another female student. Athletic department staff met with the women, advising them to stay out of the home for a time and discussed getting them police protection. Following a deeper investigation into the details and any potential threat, Boise State dismissed Ukwuachu from the team for what was termed at the time a “violation of team policies.”
Now that the legal process has been completed, the sports chatter takes over again. What did Briles know about Ukwuachu? What could he reasonably be expected to know, or frankly, how hard should he have looked into the young man’s past? And as for the player, was this a case where a second chance was warranted? Baylor’s website touts a Christian mission statement. Is forgiveness and reclamation a part of that process? Or did Ukwuachu’s previous actions violate the faith-based stance? And does it count as a second chance if Briles, as he claims, never knew about the original issues? Baylor did its own investigation into the 2014 rape allegations, but the depth of the scrutiny was so superficial the trial judge this week said it lacked significant credibility. So did Briles choose to not know what he did not want to know?
Baylor supporters have been quick to dismiss Petersen’s claim that he warned Briles. Late Friday night a document popped up in numerous social media outlets. It appears to be a transfer information request form from Baylor to Boise State regarding Ukwuachu. Last Word on Sports has not been able to authenticate the form. We reached out to Boise State’s assistant athletic director and NCAA compliance officer Jenny Bellomy, for some input, as she is the BSU representative named on the paperwork. LWOS had not received a response from Bellomy or any BSU official at the time of publication of this article. The form in question is standard paperwork when inquiring about a potential transfer student. What makes this one different, if it is real, is that line #14 asks if the player had been “…suspended or disqualified…” from the institution. The response box “No” is the one that is checked off. If the form is real, why would a BSU official sign off on that, knowing that Ukwuachu had been dismissed by Petersen for disciplinary reasons?
Even if the form is authentic, to what extent should Briles, or any coach, go to in efforts to perform due diligence on a transfer player. It’s hard to claim ignorance on most subjects in the days of digital accessibility. It’s even more implausible for a coach to claim he had no knowledge of a player’s past. A five-minute google search this morning turned up a story dated May 7, 2013 from the Idaho Statesman. There was also the headline the same day from SB Nation. Boise State’s fan twitter site even had the story.
If you assume that Chris Petersen is not telling the truth; if you assume the form with the questionable checked box from Boise State is real, do you also assume that was good enough for Baylor to take a transfer with no other questions asked? Do you further assume that a private university with unlimited resources takes every player at their word when they walk through the door without doing any further research? Is a five minute Google check out of the realm of reality? And if all of the above is true, then what is the culpability of the school and the coach when the player turns out to be a violent criminal? There has to be a tremendous amount of dubious dot connecting for Briles and his staff to be completely exonerated from any responsibility.
Baylor says it is going to perform an investigation into how the situation was handled by the athletic department and the football staff. Scholl president Ken Starr, (of Clinton administration investigation fame), has assigned university law school professor Jeremy Counsellor to head up what he called, “a comprehensive internal inquiry.” Given the moral indignation that has been heaped upon Baylor in the last 72 hours, it is likely this probe will be much more in depth than the one given to the issue of Ukwuachu’s time at Boise State.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of the story had an incorrect term of jail sentence for Ukwuachu. It has been corrected to reflect 180 days.