FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2015, file photo, Baylor head coach Art Briles watches during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kansas in Lawrence, Kan. Baylor University's board of regents says it will fire Briles and re-assign university
Charlie Riedel, File
May 26, 2016

More than a decade ago, Baylor was at the center of a sordid scandal involving murder and drugs, leading to some of the harshest penalties the NCAA has ever doled out.

Apparently, the Bears didn't learn their lesson.

Now, with the school accused of covering up numerous cases of sexual assault involving the football team, it's time to go a step further.

Pull the plug on Baylor's entire athletic program.

For good.

This is not a step taken lightly, and plenty of innocent people would undoubtedly be hurt. But there's always collateral damage when it comes to dealing with wrongdoing of this magnitude, so let's get on with it.

If there's any honor at the nation's largest Baptist university, it will make this decision without prodding from the NCAA. At the very least, de-emphasizing the program - such as dropping athletes down to Division II or III - would show that Baylor recognizes the need for drastic action to reclaim its standing as an institution of higher learning, not a criminal organization.

Don't hold your breath on that one. It would deprive the school, which opened a $250 million stadium on campus two years ago, of tens of millions of dollars. Indeed, Baylor tipped off its defensive position Thursday, moving to fire coach Art Briles and reassigning university President Kenneth Starr in what was a clear attempt to mitigate the damage.

If Baylor doesn't do the right thing, that would leave it to the NCAA to consider the death penalty for only the second time in its history, at least putting the Bears out of the football business for a season or two.

Sound harsh?

Not so much when you consider the Texas school's history.

The cesspool that was the men's basketball program bubbled up after the 2003 murder of player Patrick Dennehy by one of his teammates, Carlton Dotson. That tragedy unleashed a probe into allegations ranging from rampant drug use among players to improper payments by the coaching staff.

Before being forced out, scoundrel coach Dave Bliss was even recorded trying to persuade players to lie about illegal payments to Dennehy, to say he got the money dealing drugs - really, about as low as one can go to cover his tracks. The Bears didn't get the death penalty, but they came awful close: a reduced schedule, crippling scholarship losses, and probation through 2010.

Well, here we go again.

This latest case has been brewing since last year, when Starr - best known as the investigator in the Monica Lewinsky scandal - asked a law firm to review Baylor's handling of sexual assault cases following allegations that the school brushed aside several incidents involving football players.

There were plenty of reasons for officials to look the other way, all of them involving dollar signs. Under Briles, the Bears had become a college football powerhouse, a team known for its high-powered offense and winner of two Big 12 championships in the last three seasons. No one wanted to cripple the goose that laid the golden egg.

The cover-up began to fall apart when former football player Sam Ukwuachu, who had transferred to Baylor after being booted out of Boise State, was convicted last August of sexually assaulting a female soccer player. The allegations kept coming: At least seven other women have come forward, claiming the school ignored their rape claims against players.

But really, this case goes back to early 2014, when Tevin Elliott, who had been one of Baylor's top defensive players, was convicted of two counts of sexual assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Sadly, no one outside of Waco paid much attention. How many women might've been spared a lifetime of pain if someone in a position of authority had taken note of Briles' increasingly out-of-control program, not just how many games the Bears were winning?

The law firm's findings - and, remember, these come from investigators hired by the school - reveal a callous disregard for women being terrorized by the football team. Coaches and athletic administrators ran their own sham investigations, which come across as nothing more than an attempt to discredit those making the claims. In some cases, no one outside the athletic department was informed of what was going on.

''The choices made by football staff and athletics leadership, in some instances, posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the university,'' the report said.

The school, in its own statement, called it ''a fundamental failure.''

Sounds more like a lack of institutional control.

Those ominous words bring us back to the NCAA.

For the most part, the governing body directs its enforcement wrath toward such heinous offenses as players selling off their jerseys to earn a little extra meal money. More serious cases - see the academic fraud scandal at North Carolina - generally drag on for years, often resulting in sanctions that don't come close to matching the crime.

Yes, there was that time the NCAA dropped the hammer on Penn State for allowing child predator-slash-football coach Jerry Sandusky to roam free on campus. But in the end, the organization meekly reversed course, vacated most of the sanctions and allowed the Nittany Lions to carry on as if nothing happened.

Well, here's another case that calls for the harshest of punishments.

If the death penalty isn't appropriate now, it never will be.

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Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

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