Stripped of all dignity

Updated: February 10, 2004, 5:19 PM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

But, listen, on the bright side, it's clear that Colorado's football players are intent and focused upon putting their prized recruits ahead of themselves.

Otherwise, there's no way the Buffs would allow strippers to first perform for the high-schoolers before turning their attentions to those who have already, uh, lettered.

"They'll strip for (the recruits), do lap dances for them, and then they'll dance for the rest of the guys," stripper-service owner Steve Lower told the Rocky Mountain News.

And if this doesn't embody the kind of selfless team spirit upon which college athletics were founded, tell me, what does?

The conversation coming out of Boulder, in the wake of a full investigation into the Colorado recruiting scandal and the most recent suggestion by Lower that stripper appearances at unofficial recruiting functions were fairly common, has centered to an extent on the notion that the administration and coaches knew nothing.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that that's not the good news. It is not good news when head coach Gary Barnett, brought in to rehab a program and mop up the slime spots left over from Rick Neuheisel's era in Boulder, says he had no idea his players were procuring strippers -- pardon me, adult entertainers -- to spice up recruits' evenings during their visits to campus.

It's not good news that Barnett didn't know what evidently was very close to common knowledge about what his players were doing in the evenings. It certainly does Colorado no particular honor, though it might have some effect toward salvaging Barnett's job, that the coach was oblivious even through a period in which law enforcement officials claim the university (that is, the players) used sex and alcohol parties to entice prized recruits to sign with the Buff. Sorry: Buffs.

Again, though, we can always find the silver lining. One of the strippers, who says she has performed at perhaps a dozen Colorado recruiting parties over the past five years, says alcohol was present at about half of them, but "it was never out of control."

Good to know.

Easy laughs aside, the Colorado case goes beyond the party-down behavior of some Buffs players. It goes beyond the seemingly smaller questions of whether some guys ponied up the money to hire a legal stripper service in order to give some recruits an extra eyeful to consider when pondering their futures as, ahem, NCAA scholar-athletes.

It certainly goes beyond Steve Lower's assertion that hiring strippers for recruiting parties has become a tradition at many different schools across the country, including local types like Colorado State and Northern Colorado.

No, to understand why this isn't merely some juvenile lark by a bunch of boys-will-be-boys jocks, you have to understand the complexity of the case in Boulder just now. It includes federal lawsuits that were filed after three women alleged they were raped during or just after a December 2001 off-campus party at which Colorado football players and recruits were present.

This isn't Janet Jackson showing a little skin. These are claims of sexual abuse, and although prosecutors initially declined to file charges in connection with the 2001 case, they have since decided to re-examine it.

These are the words of Boulder County District Attorney Mary Keenan, who, though she was the one who declined to file rape charges, said in a deposition that she believed sex was used to lure recruits to Colorado -- and, damningly, that the university ignored her demands to put an end to the alcohol/sex parties which now are being investigated to such a nationally humiliating extent.

This is the real thing. There's almost nothing about it that says "good times," even if you're one of those who wants to believe that was the extent of the original idea.

The sad thing is, it isn't inconceivable that Gary Barnett had no idea what his players were up to. On the contrary, it would make Colorado's program look and sound like a great many NCAA programs around the country -- not in the stripper sense, necessarily, but in the can't-follow-the-kids-around-24-hours-a-day explanation that you hear proffered so often in the wake of scandals both small and large.

That's the mantra: The coaches can't know everything. It is at once a reasonable response to the overwhelming demands on a top-shelf college coach, and an increasingly lame catch-all excuse when things go bad.

They've gone bad in Boulder, a Colorado football program now facing an issue in which there just isn't an upside to be found, unless you count the part about the guys letting the high-school kids go first with the strippers. It'd be at least weakly funny if it weren't so real.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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