The Baylor college basketball team was already in trouble when perhaps the most tragic of all sports scandals occurred. Under Coach Dave Bliss, the team was under investigation by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for a number of violations when details emerged in October 2003 about Coach Bliss’s lurid attempts to cover up under-the-table payments to players.
On June 12, 2003, team member Carlton Dotson shot and killed teammate Patrick Dennehy while the two were firing pistols at a gravel pit. Dotson told no one. A week later, Dennehy’s family reported him missing when they were unable to contact him. Dotson virtually turned himself in to authorities in his home state of Maryland, having called them to report that he needed help because he heard voices. He reportedly confessed to killing Dennehy to an FBI agent, but told the agent that he did it in self-defense, claiming Dennehy had tried to kill him at the gravel pit but his gun jammed. Speaking to reporters later, however, Dotson denied that he had confessed. Six weeks after his disappearance but just days after Dotson’s arrest, Dennehy’s decomposed body was found near the gravel pit outside of Waco, Texas. He had been shot twice in the head.
Dotson was at first ruled incompetent to stand trial and sent to a state mental facility, as he claimed to suffer from hallucinations and paranoia. He thought people were trying to kill him because he was Jesus. Doctors at the facility believed he was faking, however. Just as the trial was about to commence, Dotson pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Coach Bliss had been making payments to Dennehy to cover his tuition and other expenses, in violation of NCAA regulations. Bliss feared that his blatant disregard for the NCAA rules would be uncovered during the investigation of Dennehy’s murder. He concocted the story that Dennehy was really a drug dealer who paid his own tuition through his “work.” Unbeknownst to Bliss, Assistant Coach Abar Rouse had taped conversations capturing incriminating information about Bliss’s rules violations as well as his plan to cover up those offenses. Bliss was even heard trying to convince another player to go along with his “drug dealer” story.
Bliss was forced to resign on August 8 after admitting that two players were receiving improper payments (totaling more than $30,000) and that he had tried to cover everything up. He was banned from being hired by an NCAA-member team without “just cause,” at least until 2015. It was later revealed that Bliss had also made payments to amateur teams with standout players and covered up failed drug tests for players. He did some coaching after he left Baylor, spending one season with the Dakota Wizards of the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) and then a summer in China with a team from Athletes in Action, a ministry that uses sports as a platform. In summer 2009, Bliss moved back to Texas, as his daughter had given birth to his new granddaughter. He claimed he let the competitive world of sports get the best of him.
The NCAA considered shutting down the Baylor basketball program, but reconsidered when Baylor self-imposed sanctions. These included the resignation of Bliss,the loss of scholarships, and a ban on post-season play. The NCAA added to that punishment five years of probation and a ban from playing any nonconference games for one season.
- Finley, P., Finley, L., & Fountain, J. (2008). Sports scandals. Westport, CT: Praeger.
- Jimenez, D. (2009, July 18). Bliss back in Texas again after Baylor basketball scandal. USA Today. Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/college/mensbasketball/2009-07-18-bliss-back-in-texas_N.htm
- Lindgren, H. (2002, August 31). The way we live now: 8-31-03; Blood sport. New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/31/magazine/the-way-we-live-now-8-31-03-blood-sport.html