Duke should cancel its football game this weekend.
Yes, you read that right. Cancel the game that so many Blue Devil alumni have looked forward to attending for months. It’s not a stance against homecoming or Duke’s alumni.
It’s against the Blue Devils’ opponent, Baylor.
The program that covered up sexual assault cases for years, ruined the lives of others for something they did not even do and made it okay for grown men to take control of a female’s body—all to have a good football team.
How can anyone treat the school like nothing happened?
Yes, the president, athletic director, Title IX coordinator and others have been let go by Baylor in light of events that are estimated to have occurred from 2012-16. But that does not eliminate the ideal that the program stood for—doing anything, without any regard to basic human decency, to win a few extra football games.
At last count, there were 125 reported cases of sexual assault during the four-year span, several of which remain unresolved. Three notable cases have resulted in indictments, but one of those was ultimately overturned.
Still, even when looking at what has already been decided in court, the Bears have not yet been sanctioned by the NCAA. Last summer, they fired head coach Art Briles, who used to be revered for resurrecting the program, but Briles still got consideration to land on his feet as a coach in the Canadian Football League earlier this summer.
To compound matters, the two most recent lawsuits claim frightening larger-scale sexual assaults—including a gang rape of a former female athlete as part of a “brotherhood” event. If true, Baylor may be playing some criminals, despite new head coach Matt Rhule’s attempt to erase and move past recent history.
“Matt Rhule is one of the better young coaches in the game,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “I’m going to worry more about Duke now than I am Baylor. They’ve got things under control, so let’s make sure we’re doing things right.”
It varied little from his stock pregame press conference speech, but it is not necessarily Cutcliffe’s job to take action. He still has the responsibility of properly preparing the Blue Devils for the game.
Try to picture what it was like for former student Jasmin Hernandez, who was allegedly raped twice outside of the same party by a member of the football team five years ago. Hernandez, the first student to come forward about the issue, faced immense pressure before eventually settling her civil suit against the school in August.
In Hernandez’s situation, Baylor committed a violation of the well-known “Dear Colleague” letter outlining Title IX cases, which focused on how universities are expected to deal with sexual assault. Although Baylor champions its values as a major Baptist knowledge center, it had virtually none of the protections mandated by law in place for sexual assault victims.
Welcoming the same squad with open arms into the usually celebrated homecoming matchup undermines the values of any proud university and its duty to protect students. Although the NCAA has not finished its investigation of the rape culture fostered at Baylor, I have seen enough to believe that this program deserves the equivalent of the death penalty.
Baylor’s situation is far worse than those of the teams that have received the “death penalty”—a mandate to temporarily shut down a program. It was used most notably against SMU’s football team in the mid-1980s for paying cash to players.
As a member institution of the NCAA, Duke should take the first step here even before the collegiate governing body steps in. The Bears deserve to be left completely alone, having to build the program from the bottom up, because sexual assault has no place on the football field.
Even for those who believe the football game will bring positive exposure for Duke on the national stage, that really isn’t true anymore. Baylor might be one of the worst Power-5 teams after losses to FCS opponent Liberty and Texas-San Antonio. The Bears are bottom feeders in the FBS and karma seems to finally be fighting back.
By allowing a program that has supported criminals into Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke is showing how it just wants to focus on the football game at hand. But the matchup is far more than any one game, and it is impossible to ignore the further-reaching implications about the treatment of human beings.
The clock is ticking.
Mitchell Gladstone contributed reporting.