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The Big 12 Conference board of directors plans to withhold 25 percent of Baylor University’s revenue share till it’s satisfied the university has improved conditions after a sexual-assault scandal.

Staff photo— Rod Aydelotte

Debate now rages over whether the Big 12 Conference board of directors’ decision to withhold a fourth of embattled Baylor University’s revenue share is a politically correct public relations ploy or serious shot across the bow that Baylor clean up its act. We suggest looking at this unanimous vote for what it is: further inducement by conference brethren ensuring Baylor has unforgiving protocols in place so its athletics department doesn’t hide or ignore claims of misconduct and crime leveled against its athletes.

That’s a fair demand, given that Baylor has become a national poster child for what reportedly infects many universities nationwide — plagues of sexual assault and failed protocols to treat victims and prevent further violence. One key reason that Baylor has become a symbol for such crimes and misdeeds is its national ranking in football at the time everything broke. Another: its long-guarded reputation as a Christian university. To complicate matters, regents have foolishly chosen secrecy at times when candor would have served their institution far better.

Result: The Big 12 announced this week that it would hold back from Baylor 25 percent of future revenue routinely carved up between the league’s 10 schools till Baylor officials can prove to an independent reviewer that it has fully implemented key reforms, many drawn from the 105 recommendations issued by the Philadelphia-based Pepper Hamilton law firm in May. The firm conducted a nine-month investigation into how complaints of sexual assault were handled or mishandled in Baylor’s athletics department as well as other areas of campus administration. Interim President David Garland has already pledged Baylor’s full cooperation “to conduct the audit as expeditiously as possible.” The funds withheld will be in the millions of dollars.

Yes, Baylor critics — including those who want the NCAA to slap Baylor with the “death penalty” — are justified to a degree in wondering how sincere Big 12 officials are in putting heat on Baylor to prove itself worthy. Baylor defenders are similarly justified in noting that, besides the key reforms being implemented on campus, significant change is evident in the regents’ controversial decision to topple from power Baylor’s popular president and winning football coach. Forces on both sides wonder aloud if certain regent leaders also need jettisoning.

For the moment, the most important priority must be the safety of students and faculty on and off campus and the welfare of any victim of assault, regardless of whether the alleged perpetrator is a football player or a seminary student. While Baylor reportedly has implemented most of its reforms, the reputation of the third-party reviewer charged by the Big 12 must be beyond question — and it must be transparent about its findings, including where Baylor yet falls short.