As the University pursues excellence in academics, facilities and community life -- all articulated within Baylor 2012 -- it also has set forth expectations for its athletic programs. The goal of the 10th imperative, to build with integrity a winning athletic tradition in all sports, is appropriate, especially for a Christian university, says athletic director Ian McCaw.
"The essence of athletics is winning, but at the same time, we want to maintain the highest level of integrity and conduct our athletic program in a manner that is above reproach," he says.
Although that challenge may seem more daunting after the tragedy and NCAA infractions that unfolded last summer in the men's basketball program, McCaw says he intends to maintain an environment of transparency within the athletic department. One of his priorities is to create an extensive compliance program at Baylor, beginning with a Big 12 review, he says.
"We want to represent the values of Baylor University, which include high academic standards and successful athletic programs, and promote a strong Christian environment," he says. "Ultimately, it's our responsibility to protect the integrity of the institution, the student-athletes and the staff."
David Brooks, vice president for finance and administration and interim athletic director before McCaw was hired Sept. 8, says college sports play a critical role in building community among students and alumni, as well as providing invaluable marketing exposure to national and international audiences.
"You cannot underestimate the importance of athletics to a University like ours ... for student and faculty recruiting," he says. "It's part of the unique package that we offer."
McCaw has his own vision for what Baylor athletics can become -- the pre-eminent Baptist athletic program in the nation that will "garner the same type of appeal in the greater Protestant community that Notre Dame achieves among the Catholic community," he says.
Although some contend that Baylor is outmatched in the Big 12 Conference -- competing against traditional football powerhouses such as Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas -- Brooks says the University will not move to another league. Since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996, Baylor has won a total of seven championship titles in five sports: soccer in 1998, men's tennis and baseball in 2000, men's golf in 2001, men's tennis in 2002, and men's and women's tennis in 2003. "We've competed, with the exception of football, at every level in the Big 12," he says.
The University also has made overall improvements in the rankings of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Directors' Cup -- previously known as the Sears Directors' Cup -- which recognizes the best collegiate athletic programs in the nation. In NCAA Division I programs, Baylor moved from 125th in 1996-97 to 69th in the 2002-03 season. "Our goal, as part of the underlying Imperative 10, is that we want to be a top-25 school, year in and year out," Brooks says.
"The thing about sports is, occasionally, something we call luck comes into it," says Robert B. Sloan Jr., Baylor president. "But you actually have to perform and execute to succeed, and it's this demand for doing something well that is the hallmark of sport."
Sloan also notes that all levels of sport -- pick-up games, intramural, club and varsity -- can enrich student life. "Unfortunately," he says, "when we think of college sports, we think only of the varsity, money-making, scholarship end of it. All sports are valuable to university life."
Continuing to set high academic standards for student-athletes also is a priority for the University, says Don Riley, director of student-athlete services. "Student-athletes are like all of the Baylor students. We try to challenge them to finish what they set out to do -- graduate."
In order to achieve this objective, the University reorganized its student-athlete services department in 1996. A study center in Neill Morris Hall is open 71 hours a week. Student-athletes also are offered assistance at the Baylor Success Center, where they can receive academic advisement and career counseling.
During the 1996-97 academic school year, 12 scholarship and nonscholarship student-athletes graduated from Baylor; during the 2002-03 school year, 104 student-athletes graduated.
In early fall, the NCAA released its 2003 annual report on graduation rates of student-athletes -- defined as those receiving financial aid. Within the Big 12 last year, Baylor led the conference in graduation rates in three categories: male student-athletes, men's basketball and football players. It also had the third-highest graduation rate overall for its student-athletes, at 66 percent. It has led the conference in graduation rates four of the last seven years, Riley says.
Baylor 2012 also calls for a more concerted effort to integrate student-athletes into the community life of the University, says Eileen Hulme, vice president for student life. "Student-athletes have to be focused on their sport. But our hope is that we can give them as much of a college experience as possible, given that they're leading lives that are very different from the average student," she says.
It's a role with which Hulme -- who played volleyball as a Baylor undergraduate from 1978 to 1981 -- is familiar. "I was always very grateful for athletics and what it taught me -- the discipline, the teamwork," she says. "But it also took from me a lot of the college experience.
"We're not here to use our student-athletes just to win ... we're also here to develop students," she says. "It's our goal that we never lose sight of that -- that when they graduate from here, they do feel like a Baylor student, not just a Baylor athlete."
One solution is for more student-athletes to live on campus with the traditional student population, says Frank Shushok, associate dean for Campus Living and Learning. "There is certainly a camp of people out there that says it's hard to be competitive unless you isolate your players," he says. "But I think Baylor shows all the signs of saying, we want to be competitive and we want to win, but not at the expense of what a student-athlete experiences by attending Baylor.
"The Vision is articulating a different type of athletic program," he says. "It makes me proud of Baylor for wanting to be different. The challenge for us is going to be to put the well-being of our student-athletes, and the education of all our students, above simply winning."