Nearly every weekend, Baylor football players receive a text message from Bears coach Matt Rhule, who reminds them to be respectful toward women and how he expects his team to act off the field.
The players typically receive the text messages Thursday or Friday starting around 7 p.m. Then another one follows at 9 p.m., 11 p.m., 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.
"That's not because we're at Baylor," Rhule said. "That's because I'm dealing with 18- to 23-year-old kids, and I feel a responsibility just like I would feel for my son."
Make no mistake: The text messages might mean more at Baylor.
Friday marks one year since Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton released the scathing findings of its investigation into Baylor, which led to the firing of former football coach Art Briles, the demotion and then resignation of former president Kenneth Starr and the suspension and then resignation of former athletic director Ian McCaw.
The report heavily criticized the way school and athletic department officials responded to allegations of sexual assault and domestic violence by students and raised concerns about the culture of the football program, a culture that Rhule is trying to change.
"It's not just about how we interact with women. It's about getting into fights and our core behaviors," Rhule said. "It's a reminder about being a man. At the end of the day, it's hoping that if someone starts to have too much to drink or someone sees a teammate beginning to engage in risky behavior, let's back away from that risky behavior."
The scandal remains far from over. Six federal Title IX lawsuits are pending against the university on behalf of 15 women who say they were sexually assaulted or physically assaulted by students, including many former football players. Baylor has already settled the claims of three other women who claimed football players raped them, and there are indications that at least four more Title IX lawsuits might be filed against the school in the near future.
Baylor hired Rhule, who was the head coach at Temple, in early December, signing him to a seven-year contract. The coach said he expects the sexual assault scandal to hang over the university for a while. He compared Baylor's current situation to Penn State, his alma mater, which struggled to move past the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Sandusky, a former longtime Nittany Lions assistant coach, was convicted of molesting several boys.
"I came into this assuming that it would probably continue for a while," Rhule said.
Rhule said he's addressing Baylor's previous problems directly, and he's being much more direct with his players and coaches about what's acceptable behavior and what's not. "It's gotten much more graphic and much more explicit," Rhule said.
"I think one thing I'll say -- and I feel very passionately about this -- is so often football coaches say, 'Of course, I'm against rape. I have two young girls.' To me, it's not just the fact that I have girls in my life is why I don't believe in rape. When you communicate like that with football players or any young people, they begin, in my mind, to differentiate between women they know and love and women who they don't know, and then they don't place any value on them.
"We talk about what it means to be a man, and a major part of that is not just how to treat your mom, but how to treat all women, the way to be respectful to all women, how to look at women, how to speak to women and how to treat women each and every day."
"I think one thing I'll say -- and I feel very passionately about this -- is so often football coaches say, 'Of course, I'm against rape. I have two young girls.' To me, it's not just the fact that I have girls in my life is why I don't believe in rape. When you communicate like that with football players or any young people, they begin, in my mind, to differentiate between women they know and love and women who they don't know, and then they don't place any value on them." Baylor head coach Matt Rhule
At least five separate agencies continue to investigate or monitor Baylor, including the Texas Rangers, the state's highest law enforcement division, which is still conducting an "investigation to determine the presence of criminal conduct, if any, at Baylor," according to a statement this week by a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety. The Texas Rangers are trying to determine whether any Baylor officials hampered investigations or dissuaded female victims from reporting assault. If that occurred, it might lead to charges of obstruction of justice or tampering with witnesses. The spokesman referred all questions to McLennan County (Texas) District Attorney Abel Reyna, who would only say that the investigation is "ongoing."
The U.S. Department of Education, which has a policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations, is continuing to review Baylor's compliance with Title IX and Clery Act crime-reporting laws. The result could be financial penalties for the school.
Much of the onus of the university-wide investigations will fall on newly hired president Linda Livingstone, Baylor's first female president in its 172-year history. She declined an interview for this story, but outgoing Baylor Board of Regents chairman Ron Murff said he believes her hire helps Baylor turn a corner.
"Her taking office will help us pivot from focusing on our Title IX response to a growing recognition that Baylor is serious and has put in place the most comprehensive response to sexual violence in higher education," he said.
Two other reviews are specifically targeting athletics. The NCAA is conducting interviews with current and former Baylor employees and alleged victims, sources told ESPN's Outside the Lines, and the questions pertain to whether former student-athletes received improper benefits, which are typically thought of as cash or falsified grades. In this case, illegal benefits have also been described as possibly receiving preferential treatment when it comes to avoiding or defending against prosecution for alleged misconduct.
Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades, who was hired to replace McCaw in July, said the university has been "completely transparent and cooperative" during the NCAA's investigation. Sources told Outside the Lines that Baylor has not received a notice of allegation from the NCAA, and Rhoades said he hopes to have a better understanding of the inquiry by the end of the summer.
"If we did things wrong, we're going to handle it and we're going to face it head-on, and we're going to take care of them as we need to," Rhoades said. "For me to comment as to the outcome would probably be a little premature, but I do feel good. Let's be really clear: Not in terms of behavior outside NCAA legislation, but under the umbrella of NCAA legislation, we certainly weren't perfect, but we did a good job of following policy and procedural rules. Not perfect by any stretch, but in general a good job."
The Big 12 announced in February that it is withholding 25 percent of Baylor's future conference revenue (about $6 million this year) pending an outcome of a third-party verification review of required changes to athletic procedures and institutional governance of the athletic department. A Big 12 spokesman said this week that the third-party review is ongoing, and the league expects an update when its board of directors meets June 1-2.
Baylor has already taken steps to do a better job of vetting the background of potential recruits and transfers. Each prospect or transfer is required to answer five questions about his background, to be reviewed by Rhule and Rhoades, and transfer students are required to sign a release so Baylor officials can obtain student conduct records from their previous schools. Baylor has already been implementing criminal background checks for transfers, which will be standard for all Baylor athletes by 2018. The new procedures have already prompted the school to avoid a couple of potential recruits, Rhoades said.
Two members of Rhule's staff recently went through Green Dot training, a strategy that attempts to prevent interpersonal violence through bystander intervention, and they'll begin to educate the team's players soon. Rhoades said Baylor's athletic department is working to have another nationally recognized training program in place for all athletes by this fall.
"The hope is that instead of having a culture where if something bad starts to happen guys are cheering it on or videotaping it or whatever happens across the world, guys are intervening," Rhule said.
Rhule's beginning at Baylor came with some bumps, especially relating to coaches and appropriate behavior. In February, Brandon Washington, the strength coach Rhule brought with him from Temple, was fired after being arrested in connection with a prostitution sting. In March, the school fired DeMarkco Butler, associate director for football operations, who reportedly sent inappropriate text messages to a teenager.
Rhule said he used the swift dismissals as a lesson for the team. "If it took letting a coach go to show the guys that we weren't going to be a team that enabled bad behavior, then I had to use that," he said, adding that he publicly addressed both situations. "I made a decision, and Mack's made a decision, to not worry about perception but to worry about justice."
The job has come with a lot of difficult conversations publicly and also one-on-one with his players, talking to them in specific and sometimes graphic terms about what's acceptable sexual behavior.
"No. 1, we have to educate them about affirmative consent," Rhule said. "With a lot of kids, that's not intuitive to them at first. It's, 'Hey, she didn't say no.' No, we believe in affirmative consent. Did she say yes at every point along the way? Did she verbally say it to you? Did she lovingly say it to you? I think it's really about educating them about consent and about alcohol and drugs and their ability to affect consent."
No sexual topic is taboo in the discussions, Rhule said, including gang rapes and sharing partners. Pepper Hamilton's investigation revealed details of at least four alleged gang rapes, and a Title IX lawsuit filed by a former Baylor volleyball player last week alleged that gang rapes were a "bonding" experience for the players.
The woman, who said she was gang-raped by multiple players in 2012, alleged in her lawsuit that the football team had "already developed a system of hazing their freshman recruits by having them bring or invite freshman females to house parties hosted by members of the football team. At these parties, the girls would be drugged and gang-raped, or in the words of the football players, 'trains' would be run on the girls."
"The conversations I'm having," Rhule said, "are about risky behaviors like group sex and sharing partners. I can't impose morality on people, but I can talk about what I believe. But more importantly, this is what's acceptable and this is what's not. This is what's going to get you in trouble and this is what the reality of the law is."
One year after the public learned the horrific details of Baylor's sexual assault scandal, the program's transformation is only beginning.
"We want our student-athletes to be voices and speak out against it and what's right and wrong," Rhoades said. "I think we can use that because we're under the microscope, but also in the spotlight. We can use that to be a leader to say, 'Hey, this is not acceptable behavior, period, and if you choose to do that you're not going to be here, period.' I don't care how many touchdowns you scored or how many baskets you made. There are just certain behaviors that we're not going to tolerate here, and there won't be any second chances."
Murff said that Baylor is "addressing the topic of sexual violence with all of our students, not just football players." About 10 percent of the sexual violence cases at Baylor have involved student-athletes, based on counts from various sources.
A year ago, Pepper Hamilton gave Baylor 105 recommendations stemming from its investigation. Two weeks ago, the university announced that the "infrastructure and foundation are in place" for all of them. Murff pointed specifically to the addition of trauma-informed counselors, the creation of an addiction recovery center and the modernization of the campus police force.
"The topic of sexual assault is front and center at Baylor," Murff said. "It is being dealt with openly at every level."