When Ian McCaw was hired by Liberty in November as its athletic director, he said, “We want to build this program to compete at the highest level nationally and the goal of FBS football is very much at the forefront.” McCaw got his wish Thursday, as Liberty announced that the NCAA had approved its request to move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision, the top college level of the sport.
Liberty, which has been competing at the Football Championship Subdivision level as a member of the Big South conference, will begin FBS play as an independent in 2018, and it will be bowl eligible starting in 2019. “We look forward to continuing our upward trajectory of success and meeting the level of competition in FBS,” McCaw said in a statement Thursday.
McCaw served as Baylor’s AD until stepping down last year amid an ongoing sexual-assault scandal. The Texas school, which maintains a strong link to the Baptist faith, as does Liberty, has been hit with several lawsuits, including one in January that alleged that at least 31 football players at Baylor committed at least 52 “acts of rape” over four years.
More recently, a group of Baylor regents filed a lengthy court document, in responses to libel lawsuits brought by fired head coach Art Briles and another former football assistant, that depicted McCaw, as well as former school president Ken Starr, as having encouraged or actively helped Briles to try to cover up numerous offenses committed by players. The document cited examples collected by an outside law firm hired by Baylor to investigate its program’s compliance with Title IX and other statutes, including one in which “a player was arrested for assault and threatening to kill a nonathlete, [after which] a football operations staff official tried to talk the victim out of pressing criminal charges.” Briles allegedly texted to McCaw that Waco police told the player that “they were going to keep it quiet,” to which the AD replied, “That would be great if they kept it quiet!”
In November, Baylor issued a statement claiming that in 2013, several senior members of its athletics department, including Briles and McCaw, were informed of a female student-athlete’s allegations of a gang rape committed by five football players, and none passed along that information to the proper authorities, as required by federal law. “The victim’s coach went back to McCaw, who incorrectly told the coach it was up to the victim to take action,” the regents said in the court filing. “McCaw told the coach that if the student did not press charges there was nothing else they could do.”
In response to that allegation, Liberty issued a statement in which McCaw’s attorney, Tom Brandt, said (via the Waco Tribune), “Mr. McCaw was faced with a complex situation wherein he desired to honor the wishes of the alleged victim, who was unwilling to speak to the police according to her coach, and a request from her coach for guidance as to where he should go with information he had obtained in 2013 about this incident.
“Mr. McCaw responsibly directed the head coach to the Office of Judicial Affairs, which handles student conduct matters, and was the appropriate venue to take such an allegation.”
Liberty also released an email from an unnamed Baylor regent to Jerry Falwell Jr., the private Virginia school’s president. “[McCaw] is a trustworthy man who will do the right thing,” the email stated. “In my opinion, his circumstance was very different from the others who were affected by this tragedy. My personal view is that the Lord has moved Ian from Baylor to Liberty through this sad chapter in Baylor’s history.”
“Ian’s success really speaks for itself,” Falwell said when McCaw was hired. “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.”
On Thursday, Falwell said in a statement, “Today is truly historic for Liberty University. This university aspired to compete at the highest levels of NCAA competition and began working toward that dream and vision from the day of its founding in 1971. We are deeply grateful to NCAA leadership and staff for considering this request and for acknowledging Liberty’s readiness and the appropriateness of Liberty now moving to FBS football status as an independent. Congratulations to Athletics Director, Ian McCaw and Coach Turner Gill!”
“This is truly a blessed day from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior for allowing the vision of our late founder Jerry Falwell, Sr., along with the hard work of President Jerry Falwell to come to fruition!” Gill said. “It gives our university great national exposure to build Champions for Christ!”
“This is a very exciting day for Liberty Athletics and our football program,” McCaw said. “We are grateful for President Falwell’s vision and leadership in spearheading Liberty’s move to FBS football.”
Big South Commissioner Kyle Kallander said Thursday that his conference “is aware of the NCAA’s approval in granting Liberty University a waiver to move its football program to the Football Bowl Subdivision as an independent.” He added that the Big South “remains in great health with the addition of Campbell University in 2018 and the University of North Alabama in 2019.”