Last month, Baylor University head football coach Art Briles was fired after reports that he failed to address sexual assault charges made against members of his team. An investigation into the matter argued that the “choices made by football staff and athletics leadership, in some instances, posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University.”
Briles, though, initially accused the school of wrongful termination. The Texas coach and his employment lawyer argued that he was being used as a scapegoat for the scandal and had no real blame or wrongdoing in the matter.
University chancellor Ken Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw both resigned in the wake of the scandal, but Briles was the only one fired. Is his situation a case of wrongful termination, or was the University right to act in the manner they did?
The lawsuit against Baylor alleged that officials and coaches knew about former football player Tevin Elliott’s history of sexual assault and failed to do anything to protect women at the university. Elliott is now serving a 20-year prison sentence after being convicted of two counts of sexual assault.
The matter may not be as straightforward as it appears for Briles. Over half of all wrongful termination court cases are won by the employer — up to 70%, in some jurisdictions. While there are more than 20 different legal grounds for citing wrongful dismissal, being fired for failure to account for your team members’ actions isn’t necessarily one of them.
This unfortunate case is just another in the troubles haunting college football teams all over the country. Some cite concerns about the possibility of traumatic brain injury in the sport: 1.7 million people sustain TBIs every year, and while 80% are treated and released from an emergency department, another 52,000 die every year.
Other football players have come under fire for unsportsmanlike conduct off the field and preferential treatment; Miami Hurricanes running back Mark Walton, for example, was recently arrested for a DUI. According to MADD, there were 10.3 million instances of people driving under the influence of illicit drugs in 2012.
Is college football’s reach really greater than the law?
In the end, Baylor University and Coach Briles announced they had “mutually agreed” to part ways, but not without acknowledging the “serious shortcomings in response to reports of sexual violence by some student-athletes, including deficiencies in university processes and the delegation of disciplinary responsibilities with the football program.”