Baylor disputes report that lawyers recommended self-imposed bowl ban

Baylor officials are disputing a report published Tuesday night that indicated university lawyers have recommended self-imposing a one-year bowl ban this upcoming season as part of the NCAA punishment for the school's sexual assault scandal.

In a statement to ESPN, Baylor officials called the report in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram "irresponsible" and "premature," but they did disclose that the NCAA's investigation into the sexual assault scandal that cost former Baylor president Kenneth Starr and football coach Art Briles their jobs is "active and ongoing."

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the NCAA's multiyear investigation into the Baylor athletic department had taken a "left turn" to the point that school officials are being advised by lawyers to self-impose penalties. The report said Baylor likely would be charged with lack of institutional control, among other penalties, by the NCAA.

"It is irresponsible to report that Baylor is considering a football bowl ban for the 2018 season when in fact the NCAA investigation into the prior football staff and previous athletics administration remains active and ongoing," Baylor's statement said. "Additionally, it is premature to speculate as to what the University's sanctions will be at this point in time."

The Bears, who went 1-11 under first-year coach Matt Rhule last season, open their 2018 campaign against FCS foe Abilene Christian on Sept. 1.

The Star-Telegram reported that NCAA investigators had recently interviewed Briles, Starr and former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw. Briles told ESPN on Tuesday night that he was one of about 10 people from Baylor who were interviewed by NCAA officials in May. Starr and McCaw didn't immediately respond to telephone messages and text messages from ESPN.

Baylor's handling of sexual violence allegations and other complaints involving students and football players has been heavily scrutinized over the past three years. The scandal culminated in May 2016 with Briles' firing, Starr's demotion to chancellor and McCaw's suspension. Starr and McCaw left Baylor soon after.

McCaw is currently the athletic director at Liberty University; Briles accepted a coaching position last week with an American football team in Italy.

The Baylor scandal led to multiple investigations by the Texas Rangers, McLennan County District Attorney's office, U.S. Department of Education, Big 12 and NCAA. Ten Title IX lawsuits have been filed against the university by a total of 22 women, including 20 who alleged being either sexually assaulted or physically assaulted, and five of the complaints have been either settled or dismissed.

Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton -- which was hired by the school's board of regents to investigate whether the school properly handled allegations of sexual assault by students, including football players -- was critical of the culture within the football program and Briles' discipline of players. Pepper Hamilton's findings described Baylor's football players as being "above the rules" with "no culture of accountability for misconduct."

According to Pepper Hamilton, its findings "reflect significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor's football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of athlete misconduct." It also faulted the football team for not adequately vetting transfer students, including former Boise State defensive end Sam Ukwuachu and Penn State defensive end Shawn Oakman, who were accused of sexual assault at Baylor.

Baylor announced last year that it had implemented 105 recommendations made by Pepper Hamilton, including Title IX training and mandatory online training in the football program.