Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world, uses religion as its calling card. The school’s mission is to “train champions for Christ,” and its website greets visitors with a strong declaration — “You Want a Christian University that Prepares You for Life. You Need Liberty.”
But many people— including Liberty students — began to publicly question the sincerity of the school’s devotion to Jesus when Jerry Fallwell Jr., the president of the university, heartily endorsed President-elect Donald Trump back in January, well before the primaries were over.
And now, Liberty’s latest move — the hiring of athletic director Ian McCaw, who formerly held the same job at Baylor University — makes its proclamation of Christian values feel like nothing short of a farce.
This is the same Ian McCaw who resigned from Baylor earlier this year amidst the school’s sexual assault scandal; the same Ian McCaw who was in the news just a few weeks ago when former Baylor Title IX coordinator Patty Crawford told ESPN’s Outside the Lines that McCaw specifically asked her if the football players could get immunity from sexual assault allegations; the same Ian McCaw who the Baylor Board of Regents says knew about a student athlete’s allegation of gang rape against five football players and did absolutely nothing.
Yeah, that guy.
At the press conference announcing the hire on Monday, Christianity was heavily flaunted, while any mention of the sexual assault scandal at Baylor — which touts the same “Christian values” that Liberty does — was completely absent.
“We certainly want Christian student athletes to grow up dreaming of competing for Liberty University.”
“Liberty to me represents a pinnacle of professional and personal opportunity where we’re going to be able to develop champions for Christ, develop a world-class student athlete experience, and achieve victory with integrity,” McCaw said during a press conference on Monday. “We certainly want Christian student athletes to grow up dreaming of competing for Liberty University.”
“Ian’s success really speaks for itself,” Falwell said. “You look at what Baylor was able to do during his tenure, it fits perfectly with where we see our sports programs going. This is an exciting time for us.”
Just as a refresher, let’s recall what “Baylor was able to do” while McCaw was at the helm of the athletics department.
The sexual assault and domestic violence allegations are almost too numerous to keep track of, but the Wall Street Journal reports that according to Baylor regents, the scandal encompassed “17 women who reported sexual or domestic assaults involving 19 [football] players, including four alleged gang rapes, since 2011.”
According to the Pepper Hamilton report, an independent investigation that Baylor called for last fall when the scandal became headline news, there were “significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of student athlete misconduct.”
The athletic department was deemed to have a “wholly inadequate” compliance with Title IX, and there were said to be actions from administrators that “directly discouraged” victims from reporting. Furthermore, the he leaders of the athletic department (so, McCaw) were specifically singled out in the Pepper Hamilton report for “a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player and to a report of dating violence.”
It’s important to note that some of the allegations against football players came from female student athletes — meaning other students that were under McCaw’s watch that he was supposed to be protecting.
“I would be very concerned if I was a student at Liberty looking at this situation right now,” Jessica Luther, who broke open the Baylor scandal with her reporting at Texas Monthly, said on ESPN Outside the Lines Monday.
“This is troubling, part of the discussion around what happened at Baylor is if the desire to build a football team into a powerhouse is part of why they overlooked so many problems they had with their players off-the-field, and to hear that same rhetoric again at Liberty, it’s concerning.”
With so many observers outside and inside the school deriding Falwell’s decision to hire McCaw, the Liberty website published a Q&A with Falwell on Tuesday to address the concerns over McCaw’s involvement in Baylor’s scandal. In it, Falwell insisted that there was a thorough investigation before hiring, and said the university is “completely satisfied that Ian McCaw is a good man and a great athletic director.”
He said that his investigation found that McCaw did, in fact, comply with Title IX regulations, and added that because of his past at Baylor, McCaw would be even more dedicated to complying with Title IX regulations.
Of course, nowhere in the Q&A is any remorse expressed for the victims of the serial abuse that women received by the hands of Baylor athletes during McCaw’s time at the helm, nor is there any pretense that McCaw has learned anything from what happened in Texas.
“If he made any mistakes at Baylor, they appear to be technical and unintentional.”
“If he made any mistakes at Baylor, they appear to be technical and unintentional, out of line with an otherwise distinguished record,” Falwell said. “He is a good man who found himself in a place where bad things were happening and decided to leave — and now Liberty is the beneficiary.”
What’s clear is that Falwell has been seduced by the five national championships and 58 Big 12 titles that Baylor sports teams won under McCaw’s tutelage, and as the school looks to transform itself into a bowl-eligible football program and athletic powerhouse, someone with McCaw’s on-the-field resume was too tempting to pass up.
In trying to raise “champions for Christ,” Liberty has proven that it puts a lot more emphasis on the former than the latter.