DiBiaggio will report to top school officials

Updated: February 27, 2004, 2:59 AM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- University of Colorado officials appointed a former college president Wednesday to help the school determine whether its embattled athletics department mistreats women.

The athletics program is at the center of a scandal that includes allegations of rape and accusations that recruits were lured to the Boulder school with sex and alcohol.

John DiBiaggio is expected to begin work next week and report directly to university President Betsy Hoffman and Chancellor Richard Byyny. They said he will have access to virtually everything and everyone on campus, including suspended football coach Gary Barnett.

DiBiaggio, whose appointment is expected to be formally approved next week, will work with officials and staff across campus to advise officials in making changes, Byyny said. He also will help provide information to an independent investigative panel set up by the Board of Regents to investigate the scandal.

Reached at his home in Snowmass Village, DiBiaggio said he did not have any specific goals or opinions heading into his new job.

"They (Hoffman and Byyny) are interested in assuring that they develop a program in athletics that they can be proud of at the university, a model program," DiBiaggio said. "What they really wish for me to do is serve as an observer and make recommendations to them as to changes that might be considered."

He said he will try to gain an understanding of the culture of the athletics department rather than look deeply into specific issues.

"Often the kinds of things that occur within (any university's athletics department) broad-brush the institution, so it's important for it to reflect what the institution is all about," he said.

Hoffman said DiBiaggio was the first choice among several candidates because he is a nationally recognized expert on collegiate athletic reform and an experienced administrator.

DiBiaggio, a dentist and father of three, is a former president of Tufts, Michigan State and Connecticut universities. He has served as a member of the board of the NCAA Foundation and the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which was founded in 1989 to study problems and recommend improvements in college sports.

"We have to do this at this moment in time," Hoffman said. "This university has to emerge from this stronger, emerge with all the questions answered. We absolutely have to do this."

She said DiBiaggio will help the university figure out whether the athletic department has a culture that is supportive of women or one that somehow encourages sexual assault.

The appointment is also crucial to answering questions raised by three women who have sued the school in federal court, Hoffman said. The women say the university fostered an environment that led to their rape by football athletes at or after a 2001 off-campus party.

In a Sept. 11, 2000, column, DiBiaggio wrote that intercollegiate athletics "continues to be plagued by abuses,'' and said real change can happen only at each institution and only if college and university presidents have the courage to stand up to pressures against it.

Hoffman said that sort of attitude was "exactly what we were looking for."

"We intend to do whatever has to be done to move us forward," she said.

Colorado athletics director Richard Tharp said he was "delighted" by DiBiaggio's selection.

"We look forward to benefiting from Dr. DiBiaggio's wisdom and experience, particularly in our ongoing efforts to define the proper role of athletics as a program of the university," Tharp said in a statement. "We also look forward to his advice and counsel on the most effective ways of meeting our educational mission."

DiBiaggio's salary will be funded by the athletic department. He will be paid $21,000 a month plus a $1,000 monthly housing allowance through June 30.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press