Barnett: Where is the evidence?

Updated: March 4, 2004, 2:38 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Suspended Colorado coach Gary Barnett says he is sure he and his embattled football program will be exonerated and that it has given him perhaps his greatest challenge.

"It's become, in some ways, also my greatest opportunity to demonstrate leadership -- to pull our team and our school and our athletic department through this adversity that we're facing," Barnett said in an interview Wednesday with KMGH-TV of Denver.

It's urban legend. Why would we want to use those things to recruit?
Gary Barnett

The university has been rocked by allegations that football recruits were offered sex and alcohol. Seven women have accused football athletes of rape since 1997. No charges have been filed, but three of the women have filed federal lawsuits that say the school's failure to control its athletes contributed to their assaults surrounding a 2001 off-campus party.

The Board of Regents and the state attorney general are investigating. Congress will also hold a hearing on recruiting next week.

Barnett said the ordeal has been difficult for his family and acknowledged that his reputation has been damaged.

"There's yet to be one single piece of evidence to back up any of those allegations," Barnett said. He denied the school has ever used sex and alcohol to land recruits.

"It's urban legend," he said. "What I think's happening is that all the stories that have come out through the years, and I think that probably some actions of coaches around the country last year really put coaches in a tough light."

He added: "Why would we want to use those things to recruit? Why do you want players or people who would come to your university because of those reasons? And, again, I say that realizing that already half the population out there doesn't believe what I'm saying. But it is the truth."

Barnett was suspended last month by university President Betsy Hoffman, who said she was concerned about comments he made involving two of the alleged rape cases. In one case, he criticized the athletic ability of former kicker Katie Hnida after she accused a teammate of rape.

"I wish that I hadn't answered that question and hadn't answered it the way that I did," he said. "I also wish that everybody would hear the other 16 minutes of that tape because in the first 16 minutes, I continually talk about our concern for Katie and continuously talk about our concern that someone or anyone who might have done this needs to be brought to justice and that we need to do everything we can to do that."

Barnett said the various investigations "really is our chance to get all these allegations cleared up." And when the results are in, he's confident he'll be coach again, he said.

"You generally get measured by the way you handle these kinds of situations rather than the ones that are given to you and that are pretty easy to take care of," he said. "It's still a great opportunity for me, and that's the way I look at it."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press