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Why the NCAA is investigating Baylor’s sexual assault scandal

June 27, 2017 at 6:25 PM EDT
More than a dozen women have filed lawsuits against Baylor University saying the institution ignored or mishandled claims dating back several years. The school’s Board of Regents has acknowledged that 19 football players were accused of criminal, sexual or physical assault. John Yang speaks with Paula Lavigne of ESPN about the ongoing NCAA investigation.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: a sexual assault scandal that has rocked Baylor University, and ignited questions over whether the university ignored the complaints of victims.

The school confirmed in recent days that it is also the subject of an ongoing NCAA investigation.

That’s the focus of our weekly segment Making the Grade.

John Yang has the latest.

JOHN YANG: More than a dozen women have filed lawsuits against Baylor, the country’s largest Baptist university, saying the school ignored or mishandled their claims going back several years.

The school’s Board of Regents has acknowledged that 19 football players were accused of criminal, sexual or physical assault at one point. One of them, Tevin Elliot, was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The head football coach, Art Briles, was fired, and the president, Ken Starr, quit after he was demoted.

Paula Lavigne is a reporter with ESPN. She’s been investigating the Baylor case. She’s the co-author of a forthcoming book on the case called “Violated: Exposing Rape at Baylor University Amid College Football’s Sexual Assault Crisis.”

Paula, thanks for joining us.

Remind us of these allegations. They have been around for a while, but remind us of the scope, how far back they go, the nature of the allegations at Baylor.

PAULA LAVIGNE, ESPN: Right.

The allegations go back for more than a decade. And right now, in court cases alone, you have 15 different women filing Title IX federal lawsuits against the school in cases involving domestic violence, sexual assault. But depending on who you talk to, there are hundreds of cases.

And many of them involve football players, but actually this is a much larger problem. They involve regular students, fraternity members, I mean, you name it. It is a huge problem at the school.

And another sort of interesting layer to it is the fact that we’re talking about the world’s largest Baptist university, and a lot of these women are saying, you know, part of the problem here was that the school’s Christian values really didn’t foster an environment in which women were encouraged to come forward or in which their cases were taken seriously.

And you compound that on top of the issues with the prominent football team. And, yes, the scope, it just touches all aspects of higher education and of sexual assault on campus.

JOHN YANG: And what can the NCAA do, and what can it not do in cases like this?

PAULA LAVIGNE: So, that’s a really good question.

So, a lot of people — if you’re not familiar with college sports, it’s important to know that the NCAA is sort of the arbiter over amateur college athletics, right? And their purpose is to ensure fair competition and amateurism, OK?

So, a lot of people think they want the NCAA to do something about this. Right? There is a huge call for the NCAA to address this. But the issue is that sexual violence, addressing sexual violence, addressing just criminal behavior on behalf of athletes really isn’t something that’s technically in the NCAA’s wheelhouse.

And so for people to understand what their scope is, it’s important to understand a particular term that the NCAA uses, which is extra benefit, OK? So, and when we think of extra benefits, we often think of student athletes being given money from boosters or fancy cars or allowed to basically skate on a class, OK?

The NCAA, in this case, for people who are — people on the outside who are familiar with the investigation and people who are familiar with the NCAA are saying, well, one way they can get enforcement in a case involving sexual violence is to say, OK, are these student athletes getting an extra benefit if they are being diverted from judicial affairs, if they are getting a pass from local law enforcement, if coaches or administrators are hooking them up with legal counsel and maybe they’re not paying what a regular student would be paying for that legal counsel, all of those sort of things that a regular student might — who gets in trouble might not be afforded?

They’re saying, well, maybe the NCAA can consider that an extra benefit, and, in that sense, it could come in and take some enforcement action.

JOHN YANG: The issue of sexual assaults on — sexual violence on college campuses has gotten a lot of discussion. Talk about sort of the bigger issue here of how colleges even outside athletic programs are dealing with that.

PAULA LAVIGNE: It is a huge issue.

There’s been statistics that have been backed up by numerous research that one in five women will experience some sort of type of sexual assault while in college. And right now, there’s more than 200 colleges and universities under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education.

However, this is a perfect time to be talking about this, because a lot of the federal government’s civil rights enforcement actions are being called into question right now, and one of those deals specifically with Title IX. And Title IX is the venue that the U.S. Department of Education uses to enforce how colleges and universities are addressing sexual violence.

And there are a lot of people who are saying schools shouldn’t be involved in what is seen as a criminal matter. And a problem with that is that that’s pretty short-sighted, because Title IX does a lot more in addressing sexual violence than just determining whether or not an alleged perpetrator is responsible for the act.

I mean, one of the — you mentioned the case involving Tevin Elliot. The young woman in that case, I mean, she saw her accused perpetrator convicted. However, her biggest issue was the fact that she didn’t get the counseling services, she didn’t get the academic services. She was basically sort of left floundering. She ends up dropping out, doesn’t get to pursue her dream, and has to transfer and move back home.

There is nothing in the criminal justice system that provides that sort of remedy, and that’s what Title IX is designed to do. It’s designed to force these schools to address specific cases of sexual violence, in part to determine whether or not someone is responsible.

But the bigger part, the part that’s often ignored, is by providing a safe campus for these women to attend, providing counseling services if they need them, providing academic services to make them whole again, so they can continue their education.

JOHN YANG: Paula Lavigne of ESPN, thanks so much for joining us.

PAULA LAVIGNE: You’re welcome.

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