The Baylor Bears finished the 2020-21 season with a 22-2 record and enter the NCAA tournament as the number-one seed in the South region. Despite losing in the semifinals of the Big 12 Conference tournament, the Bears are one of the top contenders to win this season’s national championship. It’s easy to forget that less than two decades ago, Baylor’s basketball program was in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Baylor’s downfall began with the murder of Patrick Dennehy
Small forward Patrick Dennehy transferred to Baylor from the University of New Mexico for the 2002-03 season. After redshirting that campaign, he would get his chance to play for the Bears for the 2003-04 season. Unfortunately, this never came to pass.
Over the summer, both he and teammate Carlton Dotson purchased guns, and friends noted odd changes in Dennehy’s behavior. At one point during the offseason, Dennehy reported to his coaches that both he and Dotson had received threats from another Bears teammate.
In June 2003, Dennehy’s friends and family reported Patrick missing. It took a month before police found his decomposed body in a gravel pit near Waco. Two years later, Dotson unexpectedly confessed to shooting Dennehy during an argument while practicing their firing. In June 2005, Dotson was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Little did anyone know that the murder of one basketball player was only the start of the problems for Baylor’s basketball team.
Baylor basketball is plunged into chaos
Mere weeks after Dennehy’s body was uncovered, rumors spread of red flags within the basketball program. Baylor University president Robert B. Sloan appointed a joint panel to examine possible NCAA violations.
As it turned out, Patrick Dennehy had no business being on the Baylor basketball team to begin with. By the time he came onto the team in 2003, the Bears and head coach Dave Bliss had exhausted their scholarships. To force him onto the team, Bliss paid Dennehy’s entire tuition — a blatant violation of NCAA rules. To deflect suspicion away from himself, Bliss told the rest of his players that Dennehy was a drug dealer.
This was not the only rule violation at the Baylor basketball program. Bliss had done the exact same thing with Dennehy’s teammate, Corey Herring. According to Sports Illustrated, he even tried to convince Herring’s mother to lie and tell investigators that she had paid his tuition. In fact, Bliss had done so, while Herring was under the impression that he was on a scholarship.
In addition, according to ESPN, Bliss and other coaches broke NCAA recruiting rules by observing a recruit’s pick-up game before his official visit.
The aftermath of the Baylor basketball scandal
On August 8, 2003, Dave Bliss resigned as Baylor’s head coach. The NCAA imposed stiff penalties on the Baylor men’s basketball program, just a hair short of the so-called “death penalty”. Among other punishments, Baylor was placed on probation until June 2010 and barred from playing any non-conference games in the 2005-06 season.
Bliss’s assistant, Scott Drew, took over as head coach. He has not relinquished the position since. In 10 of his 18 seasons, he has led the Bears to the NCAA Tournament.
Over a decade after the basketball scandal, Baylor University demonstrated that they had learned absolutely nothing from all of this. The basketball scandal would be dwarfed in history by the sexual assault scandal that struck the football team in 2015-16.