Interviews with Liberty students, alums show strong disapproval of McCaw hire

AP Photo/Duane A. Laverty

Former Baylor head football coach Art Briles, right, and former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw in 2007.

Liberty University's recent decision to hire former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw is being met with ire from students and alumni.

McCaw is coming off a tainted tenure at Baylor. According to a Nov. 11 statement released by the school, McCaw and former Baylor football coach Art Briles failed to report an allegation of a 2012 sexual assault involving five football players to Baylor's judicial affairs office. On Nov. 2, Baylor's former Title IX coordinator said McCaw asked her for immunity for football players when she started investigating allegations of sexual assault. (Briles has since sued Baylor officials for libel and slander.)

McCaw is also named in a lawsuit filed by a former Baylor student who was raped by a football player who is now serving 20 years in prison for his crime, and an investigation by a Philadelphia law firm found that 17 women since 2011 reported incidents of sexual and domestic violence allegedly involving 19 football players, Baylor regents told The Wall Street Journal in late October. Four of the cases reportedly involved gang rapes.

Prior to his resignation, McCaw presided over a football program that went to a bowl game every season from 2010 to 2015, the team winning three of the six.

"You look at what Baylor was able to do during [McCaw's] tenure, it fits perfectly with where we see our sports programs going," Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr. said in a Nov. 28 statement.

"I can't think of an athletic director in the country who is more sensitized to the importance of complying with the intricacies of Title IX than Ian McCaw," Falwell said in a separate Nov. 29 statement.

Many connected to Liberty don't share Falwell's confidence. Almost two weeks after his hiring, alumni, students and athletes contacted by espnW remain concerned by McCaw's past and their university's decision to seemingly put athletics before the Christian values it holds so dear.

Liberty's mission statement emphasizes "a commitment to the Christian life, one of personal integrity, sensitivity to the needs of others, social responsibility and active communication of the Christian faith."

Liberty alumnus Nick Tarter, the pastor at CityLife Baptist Church in Bethany, Oklahoma, grew up on Big 12 football as an Oklahoma fan and closely followed the Baylor scandal. Seeing McCaw get another chance, let alone at his school, felt like "a punch in the gut," he said.

"To me it's not even a question of whether he's been implicated" in the investigation at Baylor, Tarter said. "He didn't stand up and stand in the way of those things as they were coming down the pipeline. There is a stain on everyone who was involved."

Liberty, located in Lynchburg, Virginia, put out a blanket order that all requests for comment on McCaw be sent to spokesman Len Stevens. When asked for a comment from Falwell, Stevens provided espnW with his previously released statements. Liberty's Title IX coordinator also didn't return interview requests, and McCaw declined an interview request via the athletics department.

Multiple requests for comment sent to members of the board of trustees were also rebuffed. A secretary at the parish of trustee Dr. Allen McFarland said all members were told to direct comments to Stevens.

No student contacted by espnW wanted to speak on the record about McCaw for fear of retaliation. But interviews and a confidential online survey with more than two dozen Liberty students showed that almost none support Falwell's decision. Every student said bringing in McCaw hurt the university's public image.

More than a dozen alumni contacted by espnW said they don't support McCaw, and three said they won't be contributing money to the university as long as McCaw is in charge of the athletics department.

One Liberty student said the administration uses the following rationale to sell McCaw: Good Christians believe in repentance, and McCaw deserves a second chance. That stance is then twisted to frame any stand against McCaw and Falwell as an immoral act, the student said.

"It's manipulative -- it's abusive, honestly -- and I'm surprised by the number of students that have fallen into that mindset here as well," the student said.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Jerry Falwell Jr. (shown) says of Ian McCaw, "I can't think of an athletic director in the country who is more sensitized to the importance of complying with the intricacies of Title IX."

A former Liberty athlete said if she was still playing, she'd seriously consider leaving the school because of the McCaw hire.

"Many student-athletes disagree with Jerry's decision to force [former athletic director] Jeff Barber to resign and hire Ian McCaw, but we are afraid to speak up because we fear we will lose our athletic scholarship and no longer be allowed to play our sport here," said another current Liberty athlete, who also asked to remain anonymous.

Falwell has a history of retribution at Liberty. After Falwell offered public support for Donald Trump during his presidential campaign, Liberty board member Mark DeMoss criticized the move in a Washington Post article. DeMoss had been on the board of trustees for more than 25 years and was involved with the university for more than 40. He was classmates with Falwell during their time at Liberty. DeMoss was asked to resign from the executive board following his statement.

Falwell also reportedly blocked the publishing of a column in Liberty's student newspaper that condemned Trump's commentary on "locker room talk." 

McCaw left his post at Baylor four days after the university decided to make sweeping changes across the athletic department and its administration. In May -- less than a year after law firm Pepper Hamilton began its independent investigation of the university, in which it found widespread failures in the school's Title IX process and voiced concerns about the "tone and culture within Baylor's football program" -- Ken Starr was removed from his position as Baylor president, Briles was suspended indefinitely with intent to terminate his contract, and McCaw was sanctioned and placed on probation.

"[McCaw's] decision to resign was his own choice. It was in no way a forced resignation or firing" by Baylor, Falwell said in the Nov. 29 statement. "If he made any mistakes at Baylor, they appear to be technical and unintentional, out of line with an otherwise distinguished record."

McCaw isn't the only ex-Baylor official at Liberty. Former Baylor Title IX investigator Ian McRary, who left that post in January, was named associate general counsel for Liberty in February.

Upon hiring McCaw, Liberty cited Baylor's 58 Big 12 conference titles during his tenure. Liberty football sold out its 19,200-seat stadium once this past season, didn't make the FCS playoffs and averaged a little less than 3,000 empty seats per home game.

McCaw said "the goal of FBS football is very much at the forefront" for Liberty, a Big South program now under his direction.

"I went there because I do believe in the things they're saying about character and preparing people to impact the world from a Christian worldview," said Tarter, who got his graduate degree in theology from Liberty. "Do we care more now about trying to build a good football program?"

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