Baylor University basketball scandal

Baylor University basketball scandal

The Baylor University basketball scandal was an incident in which the Baylor University men's basketball program was investigated and punished for numerous NCAA violations. The scandal broke out after the 2003 murder of men's basketball player Patrick Dennehy. His teammate, Carlton Dotson was convicted of the murder and sentenced to a 35-year prison term.

Shortly after Dennehy's disappearance, the school and the NCAA began investigations into multiple allegations, ranging from drug use among players to improper payments to players by the coaching staff. Baylor self-imposed punishments, which the NCAA augmented to include extended probation for the school through 2010, the elimination of one year of non-conference play, and a 10-year show-cause penalty on resigned head coach Dave Bliss. The sanctions so crippled the Bears that they didn't have another winning season until 2008. It is one of the harshest penalties ever imposed on a Division I program that didn't include a death penalty.


The disappearance and murder of Patrick Dennehy

Patrick Dennehy was a junior forward who transferred to Baylor University from the University of New Mexico following his sophomore season in 2001–2002. After redshirting the 2002-2003 season (to comply with the NCAA's Division I transfer policy), he was preparing to play for the Baylor Bears in the upcoming 2003-2004 season. Dennehy's friend and former teammate at Baylor, Carlton Dotson, had played one season on the Baylor basketball team after transferring from Paris Junior College in Paris, Texas, in the summer of 2002, where he played two seasons.

In the summer of 2003, Dennehy and Dotson indicated that they were concerned about their safety. They had purchased two pistols and a rifle and practiced firing them at a farm north of Waco, Texas. On June 14, Dennehy told friend Daniel Okopnyi that he was worried about threats made to Dotson by two fellow teammates, one of whom was allegedly junior transfer Harvey Thomas. Dennehy also indicated that he and Dotson would be at a party the following day at which neither appeared.

Over the next few days, there were indications that something had gone wrong: Dennehy's mother and then-stepfather, Valorie and Brian Brabazon, were concerned that they had received no calls on Father's Day. Dennehy's roommate, Chris Turk, returned from an out-of-town trip to find that Dennehy's dogs had not been fed in days. On June 19, the Brabazons filed a report with the Waco Police Department that Dennehy was missing.

On June 25, Dennehy's Chevrolet Tahoe SUV was found in the parking lot of a strip mall on Shore Drive in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with its license plates removed.

An affidavit filed on June 23, which was unsealed on June 30, seeking a search warrant for Dennehy's computer says that an informant in Delaware told police that Dotson, who was by now at home in Hurlock, Maryland, told a cousin that he had shot and killed Dennehy during an argument while firing guns in the Waco area. On July 21, Dotson was charged with the murder of Patrick Dennehy and taken into custody in Maryland.

The search for Dennehy continued for several weeks until July 25, when a badly-decomposed body was found in a gravel pit near Waco. The body was taken to Dallas for an autopsy and the following day medical examiners identified the body as being Patrick Dennehy. On July 30, his death was ruled a homicide after a preliminary autopsy report showed that Dennehy died of gunshot wounds to the head. Dennehy was buried in San Jose, California, on August 7.

On October 28, 2004, Dotson was declared incompetent to stand trial by District Judge George Allen and was sent to a state mental hospital to be reevaluated in four months' time. Three psychiatrists, including one appointed by the court, said that Dotson appeared to be suffering from hallucinations and psychosis, but that should he regain competency in the future, he would be made to stand trial.

On June 8, 2005, five days before his trial for murder was to begin, Carlton Dotson unexpectedly pleaded guilty to killing Patrick Dennehy. On June 15, Dotson was sentenced to 35 years in prison.[1] He will be eligible for parole after he has served about half of his sentence.

Potential NCAA violations

In early August 2003, allegations arose concerning Dennehy's ability to remain with the Baylor basketball team during the 2002-2003 academic year without an athletic scholarship. Allegations of impropriety within the athletic department surfaced and Baylor University President Robert B. Sloan appointed an investigative panel to determine if there were any potential NCAA violations at the school.

Having reached the limits on team scholarships, Bliss surreptitiously paid Dennehy's tuition and that of teammate Corey Herring. Herring and his family had no knowledge of this: Herring was under the impression that he was on scholarship.[2] During the investigations, Coach Bliss publicly portrayed Dennehy as a drug dealer to explain how Dennehy had paid his tuition, but was soon under investigation by the university and the NCAA. Additionally, in the weeks preceding his resignation, Bliss flew to New York—without the knowledge of anyone, including his wife—in an attempt to convince Herring's mother to lie about paying the $18,641.[2] Later, Bliss pretended to be Herring's father—in an attempt to determine what evidence school and NCAA investigators might find against him—when he called Baylor's financial aid office to check on payments made to Herring's account.[2]

Drug use

On August 1, further allegations arose from Carlton Dotson's estranged wife, Melissa Kethley, and by Sonya Hart, the mother of another athlete, Robert Hart. They reported widespread abuse of marijuana and alcohol among players that was subsequently ignored by head coach Dave Bliss and his staff.

Sonya Hart revealed that she had raised concerns about the drug use with associate athletic director Paul Bradshaw, but that no one ever got back in contact with her.

Recruiting violations

On August 5, two members of the 2002-2003 Baylor basketball team told The Dallas Morning News that members of the coaching staff were present during a pickup game involving Harvey Thomas during his official visit to Baylor. One of the two players said that Bliss and assistant coach Rodney Belcher were both present during the game.

NCAA rules state that staff observation of a recruit's athletic activities, directly or indirectly, during their official visit to their university constitute an "illegal tryout."

Violations at SMU

It was also revealed that Bliss had apparently broken several NCAA regulations during his tenure at Baylor and during his tenure at Southern Methodist University from 1980 to 1988. At the time, both schools were members of the Southwest Conference.

On August 2, an NCAA memo obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram detailed major rules violations, including booster payments of US$2,000 to $5,000 to center Jon Koncak during his junior and senior years. Both Bliss and SMU received no NCAA penalties for the infractions because the university had already received the "Death Penalty" for massive violations in their football program in February 1987 and the decision was made not to further punish the SMU athletic department. Shortly after the investigation, Bliss left SMU to take a position at the University of New Mexico in 1988, before joining the Baylor program in 1999.

Bliss resigns, preliminary sanctions imposed

For his part, Bliss denied all allegations saying, "We have followed the rules, however difficult they may be, for 30 years."

However, on the day after Dennehy's memorial service, Bliss met with school investigators. They told him that according to Dennehy's girlfriend, Bliss had paid for the portion of Dennehy's tuition not covered by financial aid. He'd also done the same for another player, Corey Herring.[2] Both payments violated NCAA rules. Bliss confessed to making the payments, which totaled $7,000. This, combined with the violations of Baylor's drug test policy, and Bliss' presence at Thomas' official visit to Baylor, led President Sloan to force Bliss' resignation on August 8, 2003. Athletic director Tom Stanton resigned on the same day. Although there was no evidence that Stanton knew of the violations, he resigned to take responsibility for what happened.

On the same day Bliss resigned, the school's investigative committee announced their preliminary results and imposed preliminary sanctions on the basketball program. Initial sanctions imposed by the school included two years' probation and no postseason play for the 2003-04 season, including the Big 12 Conference tournament (see the 2004 Tournament page) An immediate release was tendered to every athlete in the men's basketball program. Four players took the school up on this offer: Lawrence Roberts, John Lucas III, Kenny Taylor and Tyrone Nelson transferred to other schools. Two of the four became immediate stars at programs that would win regular-season conference titles in 2004. Roberts became the main inside force at Mississippi State, leading the Bulldogs in scoring and rebounding and being selected as a first-team All-American. Lucas stayed in the conference at Oklahoma State, becoming the Cowboys' second-leading scorer and assists leader while helping the Cowboys to reach the Final Four.

Kenny Taylor transferred to the University of Texas, Tyrone Nelson enrolled at Prairie View A&M University, and Corey Herring transferred a year later to Canisius College.

Lying to investigators

On August 16, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Bliss told players to lie to investigators by indicating that Patrick Dennehy had paid for his tuition by dealing drugs. These conversations were taped on microcassette by assistant coach Abar Rouse from July 30 to August 1. On the tapes, Bliss was heard instructing players to fabricate the story of Dennehy being a drug dealer to the University's investigative committee and also said that talking to the McLennan County, Texas Sheriff's Department would give him the opportunity to "practice" his story. The tapes also showed that Bliss and his staff knew that Dennehy had been threatened by two of their teammates when they publicly denied such knowledge.

Rouse taped the conversations after Bliss threatened to fire him if he did not go along with the scheme.[3]

The revelations shocked the school and the college basketball community. However, despite the potential allegations of extortion, obstruction of justice and witness tampering, no criminal charges were filed against Bliss.

After Baylor, Rouse worked as a graduate assistant coach at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. He left the position in October 2007. Rouse has not had another basketball job since leaving Midwestern State University, and has said that he "has been blackballed, labeled a snitch and a turncoat" for taping Bliss' statements.[4] Despite the near-universal revulsion at Bliss' actions, many leading members of the college basketball coaching fraternity considered Rouse's recordings a serious breach of trust (for example, Mike Krzyzewski said that if he ever found out one of his assistants had been secretly taping him, "there's no way he would be on my staff"[4]). Rouse sued his attorney in 2005 for releasing the tapes, claiming that it breached the attorney-client privilege; the suit is still pending.[4]} Rouse's attorney claims she did not know how the tapes got transcribed, but the journalist who published them said he got it from her.[4] Jeff Ray, the Midwestern coach who hired Rouse, commented: "I'm right in the middle of it, don't get me wrong. But sometimes the things you see are pretty disgusting. Why is there this black cloud hanging over him? He did nothing wrong. To me, this is all a testimony to the sad state of affairs of our profession."


Baylor continued to investigate the basketball program over the next seven months and released their final report on February 26, 2004. The full list of major program violations included:

  • Bliss paying for tuition for two players, Dennehy and Herring[2] and 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."

Other improprieties of a lesser nature were also discovered.

As a result, the school imposed further penalties on the basketball program. The program's probation was extended for an additional year, scholarships were reduced for the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons, expense-paid recruiting visits were also reduced for the next two seasons and other recruiting abilities were also inhibited and one exhibition game was eliminated for the 2004-05 season. Baylor announced that it would re-certify its entire athletic department conformed to NCAA rules.

Baylor forwarded its findings to the NCAA, who imposed further penalties on the school on June 23, 2005:

  • The university's probation was extended until June 22, 2010.
  • Baylor was barred from playing any nonconference games for the 2005-06 season, the first time such a "half-season" penalty had been imposed.
  • The NCAA further reduced Baylor's paid recruiting visits from twelve to nine for the 2006-07 season. (Baylor had already imposed restrictions on recruiting visits for the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.)
  • In addition, other smaller penalties were also imposed on Baylor.

The NCAA also imposed a 10-year "show-cause penalty" on Bliss for "despicable behavior" and "unethical conduct." This means that until 2015, any NCAA member school that wants to hire Bliss must report to the NCAA every six months stating that he is in compliance with any restrictions the NCAA imposes on him, unless that school can demonstrate that Bliss has served his punishment. It is the most severe penalty the NCAA can hand a coach. As most schools will not even consider hiring someone with a show-cause order outstanding, the order will likely have the effect of blackballing Bliss from the coaching ranks for the duration of the penalty. The NCAA found that Bliss and his staff had demonstrated "a blatant and sweeping disregard" for NCAA rules. Besides paying parts of Dennehy and Herring's tuition, Bliss admitted that he'd concealed under-the-table payments to Herring and lied to both the NCAA and Baylor investigators. He also admitted to telling assistant coaches to file false expense reports and lie to Baylor investigators.

Doug Ash, who had been Bliss' top assistant throughout Bliss' coaching career at Oklahoma, SMU, New Mexico and Baylor; was hit with a five-year "show-cause" order. Another former assistant, Rodney Belcher, was hit with a seven-year "show-cause" order for committing recruiting violations in bringing Dennehy to Baylor and lying about them to the infractions committee.

In its final report, the NCAA called the violations at Baylor as serious as those which occurred at SMU almost 20 years earlier. Indeed, Baylor was eligible for the "death penalty" since its men's tennis program was on probation for major violations; the NCAA can hand down the death penalty for a second major violation within five years, even if it occurs in a different sport. However, it praised Baylor for taking prompt action once the violations came to light (in marked contrast to SMU, where there was evidence that administrators knew about the violations and did nothing).

Still, the scandal initially left Baylor's basketball program in ruin. Under new coach Scott Drew, the Bears only won a total of 36 games (and only 13 conference games) from 2003 to 2007. However, Drew quickly turned the program around after his recruits arrived; the Bears made the NCAA Tournament in 2008, finished second in the 2009 NIT, and lost in the Elite Eight of the 2010 NCAA Tournament.


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