Coach Dave Bliss failed in his attempt to turn Baylor University's basketball team into a major power. On Aug. 8, he resigned amid accusations of payoffs, players' drug use and other improper activities, all brought to the forefront during media attention resulting from the tragedy of one of his players killing another.
Baylor President Robert Sloan rightly placed Baylor's basketball program on probation for two years and ordered changes in the drug-testing protocol for Baylor athletes; the NCAA might require more. But, oddly enough, Baylor's problems in trying to gain athletic fame point to parallel questions about its ambitious "Baylor 2012" plan to be ranked a first-tier school academically at the same time it regains a Christian footing.
Baylor is the only private university in the Big 12, one of the six (soon to be five) top athletic conferences in the country. All of these conferences are largely made up of state universities that can rely on legislatures and state pride to help out in budget crunch time. Baylor is in the wrong league.
Sure, Baylor can point to private universities, such as Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference, that go up against state university competition. The private schools expect few championships and treasure the unusual year when everything comes up roses, as it did for Northwestern in Big Ten football a while back. They also tend to be academically prestigious places with high-paid alumni and high-end endowments.
Could Baylor be such a place, for the good of its sports programs but far more so for the good of its students and the glory of God? That's what Sloan intends. He has spoken often of Baylor advancing to the research university forefront while returning to its Christian roots. But the definition of "research" in much of academia today will make it even more difficult for Baylor to do both than it was for Bliss to succeed.
Gaining research awards in the hard sciences and engineering while maintaining a Christian worldview is hard, but not impossible. Darwinian fundamentalism in biology remains a large problem, as proponents of "intelligent design" theory at Baylor itself can attest, but in some scientific areas concepts and products that grow out of research need to prove themselves in measurable ways.