Baylor’s Dramatic Fall And Rise Back To The Top

When you think about Texas, football is the first thing that comes to mind.  Whether it is high school football shown in “Friday Night Lights”, college football and its prestigious history, or the NFL with “America’s Team” the Dallas Cowboys.  Football has always been the biggest sport in Texas.  In the college ranks however, basketball has made its case as a mainstay.  We’ve seen the Texas Longhorns have their success in the T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant days.  Texas Tech has seen success in the past decade with Bobby Knight coaching great college players like Andre Emmett.  Even Texas A&M has seen success with Antoine Wright showcasing his skills before heading to the league.  With all these great schools in play, there is still one that is outdoing them in the state of Texas.  That school, believe it or not, is Baylor.

The men’s basketball team at Baylor is currently ranked No. 4 in the country and just pulled off arguably the biggest win of the season Tuesday (Jan. 10) at Kansas State 75-73.  The Bears victory over Coach Frank Martin and the Wildcats lifted the Bears record to 15-0, joining Syracuse (17-0) and Murray State (16-0) as the only undefeated teams in the country.  Sure a turnaround at any school makes for a great story, but at Baylor, it goes deeper than just basketball.

In the summer of 2003, Patrick Dennehy transferred from the University of New Mexico to Baylor.  Dennehy and his Baylor teammate Carlton Dotson purchased two pistols and a rifle because they feared for their safety.  Dennehy’s parents became concerned after they failed to hear from him on Father’s Day and an informant from Delaware told police that Dotson told his cousin that he shot and killed Dennehy after an argument at the firing range in Waco, Texas.  On July 25, Dennehy’s body was discovered under a gravel pit in Waco, Texas.  Dotson was arrested and plead guilty for the murder of Dennehy and was sentenced to 35-years in prison.

Along with the tragedy of Dennehy, NCAA investigated then Baylor Coach Dave Bliss.  Bliss was accused of paying for Dennehy and Corey Herring’s tuition since the school reached its maximum scholarships.  Bliss denied the allegations by saying, “We have followed the rules, however difficult they may be, for 30 years.”  Along with paying the tuition, which Bliss later admitted to, he also ignored drug abuse by the basketball team.  Bliss for forced to resign in August 2003.

The total major violations were as followed at Baylor:

  • Bliss paying for tuition for two players, Dennehy and Herringand attempting to conceal it.
  • Coaching staff providing meals, transportation, lodging and clothing to athletes.
  • Coaching staff paying for tuition and fees for a recruit at another school.
  • Bliss’s encouragement of school boosters to donate to a foundation tied to a basketball team that included prospective Baylor recruits.
  • Failure to report positive drug test results by athletes.
  • Failure by the entire coaching staff to “exercise institutional control over the basketball program.

Baylor could have faced the “death penalty” which we have seen imposed on SMU.  Baylor instead was put on probation until June 2010, released all players from their scholarships in 2003-2004, allowing them to go elsewhere if they chose to do so, Baylor was banned from non-conference play in 2005-2006, reduced recruit visits from 2004-2007 and no postseason play in the 2003-2004 season.

This comeback is about more than basketball for Baylor.  It’s about a school overcoming the mistakes of the past to bring the program back to relevance.  The Baylor Bears are led by Coach Scott Drew and Perry Jones III (13.4 ppg) and Quincy Acy (12.1 ppg) on their search for their first ever Big-12 Championship.  It isn’t just the men’s team that is making noise at Baylor.  The Baylor women’s team is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation at 15-0 led by Brittney Griner.  The Baylor women are one of the four undefeated teams left in NCAA as they look to win the schools second major NCAA title in school history (2005 women’s basketball).

Joining the success of the basketball teams this season was the outstanding play by the Baylor football team.  Baylor finished the season 10-3 and ranked No. 15 in the AP poll.  Robert Griffin III, known as RG3, became the first Baylor player to win the Heisman Trophy in school history.  Griffin is the second-ranked quarterback in the upcoming draft class.  Griffin and wide receiver Kendall Wright look to join Jason Smith and Daryl Gardener as the only Baylor first round selections since 1996.

From misery to triumph, Baylor has been to hell and back to get the program back to where it is.  With the help of its athletes and coaches, Baylor can put the past behind them and embrace being a school that is actually a sought out destination for student athletes.

 

Photo Credit: Rod Aydelotte – AP

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About mwaterloo
I also am the WVU reporter for Ohio Valley Athletics (OVAthletics.com) covered the Orange Bowl and every home game as well as their basketball team. Sports editor at my college paper The Clarion Call (clarioncallnews.com) and covered Pittsburgh sports for the past two years for various sites. You can follow me on Twitter @MichaelWaterloo

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