Just a week after winning a title, Mulkey accepted penalties for an assortment of recruiting violations, most prominently with her 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner. Make no mistake: Baylor’s 40-0 season was less the result of improprieties than of Mulkey’s tireless work, strategic expertise and a vivid, charismatic personality that her players want to follow.
But that’s why the list of petty abuses she committed is so aggravating. Mulkey is positioned as the new standard bearer and bright coaching star of women’s basketball — a role she clearly wants, judging by her glittering outfits — but she just dipped the flag in the mud.
The women’s game is at an interesting juncture: Coaches and administrators are trying to figure out how to grow it in profitability without emulating the corruptions of the men’s game. They can legitimately argue that their audience is devoted — 4.2 million viewers watched Baylor beat Notre Dame for the title — precisely because the sport has a purer brand. Players are still real students who graduate at high rates; coaches are still real teachers as opposed to shysters; and the athletic scholarship is still meaningful, as opposed to a one-year inconvenience.
The question is how long it will stay that way. The answer is up to Mulkey.
That’s not a light or facetious statement. The answer really is up to her, personally. Because Mulkey is at the top of the game, every other coach in the country will now imitate her. All of her peers will treat the rules the way she treats them.
Here is how Mulkey treated them: According to the NCAA report, both the Baylor women’s and men’s coaches made hundreds of impermissible contacts with recruits through texts and phone calls. Mulkey claimed the calls and texts were not intentional but a failure to accurately keep her phone logs, a contention every coach in the country will laugh out loud at.
There is another situation in the NCAA report that illustrates how Mulkey treated the rules. She used her position as a parent to make improper contact with the Griner family when her daughter played with Griner on the same Texas AAU summer team, DFW Elite.
Mulkey’s defense is that she was in a difficult situation as a mother and a coach, and that’s a fact. But here are some other facts: In 2006, at around the same time she was cultivating the Griners at summer games, Mulkey hired DFW Elite’s Coach Damion McKinney to her staff. McKinney is the assistant who made many of the improper calls and texts detailed by the NCAA, more than 300 of them in 2011 to a current DFW Elite coach.