Plans for legislative investigation delayed

Updated: February 2, 2004, 3:37 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- The University of Colorado president said Monday that she will help form an independent commission to look into allegations the school uses sex to recruit football players.

President Elizabeth Hoffman said she hopes to convene the commission in two or three weeks. She said if it turns up any impropriety or has any recommendations, she will take action.

The move comes less than a week after explosive allegations were disclosed in a federal civil lawsuit against the state's flagship university. Boulder County District Attorney Mary Keenan testified that the school has used sex parties to entice marquis recruits and ignored her demands to stop the practice.

Hoffman said a key issue is whether the university took sufficient steps when allegations cropped up. She said football coach Gary Barnett, who has denied the allegations, gave recruits a handbook that outlined potential problems with alcohol, date rape "and all the other tough issues college students face, unfortunately, on a daily basis."

Barnett also established a 1 a.m. curfew and appointed chaperones.

"We want the committee to look at these policies and see if they were appropriate," Hoffman said.

After meeting with Hoffman, state Sens. Peter Groff and Dan Grossman agreed to delay plans for a special legislative investigation, which could include subpoena powers.

Groff said the panel should include recruiters and athletes, lawyers and a representative from a rape crisis support group.

Groff, however, said the panel will not focus on current cases pending in court -- including lawsuits in which three women say they were raped at or following a December 2001 party for football recruits. Keenan made her allegations in a deposition for one of those suits.

Instead, Groff said, the panel will try to determine what happened and how to prevent future problems.If it has not made progress by the end of April, Groff said he will ask the Legislature to hold hearings.

Groff said he will also ask the Big 12 football conference and NCAA to examine all recruiting procedures because of problems in other schools.

"What we're looking at is the culture of recruiting. This is bigger than the University of Colorado," he said.

An NCAA spokeswoman last week said a task force will convene this spring to look into recruiting issues.

Hoffman has asked lawmakers to let the university do its own inquiry into the allegations raised in the lawsuit filed by Lisa Simpson, a former CU student. Simpson said she was raped at a party attended by football players and recruits, and she accused the football program of fostering an environment in which women are routinely harassed.

Gov. Bill Owens last week threatened to take unspecified action if the university didn't take action. On NBC's "Today" show, Owens said Monday that the university says it has changed recruiting practices over the past seven years to clean up its image.

"The question that we're asking ourselves is, have those changes been sufficient?" Owens said. "The case that is currently involved in most of the publicity is a three-year-old case. The district attorney checked to see if she could bring criminal charges. She felt that she couldn't.

"What I've encouraged the university to do is to have a full and open and public investigation so the citizens of Colorado again have an understanding that our university is the type of university that we've always been proud of in the past, and that we can be proud of in the present and in the future," Owens said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press