LYNCHBURG, Virginia (Christian Examiner) – Social media is alight with criticism of Liberty University after the school's president announced today the appointment of former Baylor Athletic Director Ian McCaw as the head of athletic division of the Christian university.
Jerry Falwell Jr., fresh off the controversy of his endorsement of President-elect Donald Trump and reportedly flirting with a Trump administration cabinet post, said McCaw was the perfect candidate for the position. He said McCaw's success "really speaks for itself."
"You look at what Baylor was able to do during his tenure, it fits perfectly with where we see our sports programs going. This is an exciting time for us," Falwell said.
McCaw was athletic director at Baylor for 13 years before resigning earlier this year after news of the Waco school's football player-sexual assault scandal broke. McCaw was named as a key figure in the case and was sanctioned and placed on probation for failing to address the charges.
At his resignation, McCaw said he believed a change in the leadership of the athletic department would be in the best interest of the university to "promote the unity, healing and restoration that must occur to move forward."
Most of the weight of the scandal fell on then-Baylor President Kenneth Starr and head football coach Art Briles.
Earlier in November, Patty Crawford, Baylor's former Title IX coordinator, who resigned from the school in October, told ESPN's Outside the Lines that McCaw asked her for immunity for football players once the school began investigating allegations of sexual assaults that had occurred in 2012 and 2013. The 2012 incident was reportedly a gang rape by the players.
Though no longer employed at Baylor, McCaw issued a statement through the school on Nov. 2 calling the allegations "false."
"In February 2015, she asked for my assistance in arranging an interview with a student-athlete regarding an incident involving his teammates. I asked whether the student-athlete was at-risk or whether he would be provided any type of immunity. A member of the General Counsel's office responded by indicating that the student-athlete would not be offered immunity. I subsequently assisted in arranging the interview," McCaw said in the statement.
Ironically, McCaw's hire comes less than two weeks after the abrupt resignation of Jeff Barber, Liberty's former athletic director. Barber did not give a reason for his departure, nor did Falwell. Coaches were also reportedly not allowed to speak with the media about Barber's resignation, and Barber's biography was immediately removed from the university's website.
Responses to McCaw's hiring by Liberty on the school's Facebook page are virtually uniformly negative. Some called the decision "disgusting," "shameful" and "embarrassing" while others suggested Liberty is more concerned with success in sports than student safety.
"As a proud alum this hire sickens me," one man commented. "Honesty, integrity, morality, conscience? Ill advised and shameful."
Another alumnus called the hire "the 'end justifies the means' choice."
"Can someone show me where that is in the Bible? Maybe he has changed and learned from his experience at Baylor, but real leadership would have stepped aside and got things in order and not just jumped into another position of leadership."
When asked by Inside Higher Ed to explain McCaw's hire, Liberty University issued a lengthy statement praising McCaw's success and extolling his godly character. The school also said it had spoken "at length" with McCaw about what occurred at Baylor. The statement also said Liberty had learned McCaw was told by Baylor's Board of Regents he could stay at the Waco school if he so desired.
"His decision to resign was his own choice," the statement from Liberty said. "It was in no way a forced resignation or firing. There will be time, no doubt, for Ian and his attorneys to address questions about what happened at Baylor but we don't intend to litigate those facts with the press."
"If he made any mistakes at Baylor, they appear to be technical and unintentional, out of line with an otherwise distinguished record," the statement said. It also claimed Liberty's administration had spoken with a Baylor regent who "heard everything the investigating law firm has to say about what happened at Baylor."
Grant Teaff, Baylor's former football coach and athletic director and current executive director emeritus of the American Football Coaches Association in Waco, also vouched for McCaw's character.
"Ian's high level of accomplishment as an athletic director is recognized nationwide and well appreciated by the various university constituencies at Baylor. His character and integrity also make him a great fit for Liberty University," Teaff said.
McCaw said during a press conference at Liberty that he wanted to position Liberty as a "preeminent Christian athletic program" and help its name rise to the same level of prominence as Norte Dame among Catholics and BYU among Mormons.
"Liberty to me represents a pinnacle of professional and personal opportunity where we're going to be able to develop champions for Christ, develop a world-class student athlete experience, and achieve victory with integrity. We certainly want Christian student athletes to grow up dreaming of competing for Liberty University," McCaw said.