Regent: 'Somebody's head needs to roll'

Updated: May 20, 2004, 8:28 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Several people close to the University of Colorado recruiting scandal called for job changes Thursday in some of the strongest criticism yet of how administrators handled the football program.

"I think somebody's head needs to roll," Regent Jim Martin said. "There is more at stake here than athletics, we're talking about the university's reputation.

"Sometimes in the public arena, things get so out of whack, you need to change the players so people don't lose confidence in the institution," he said.

Earlier this week, the Board of Regents formally accepted a 40-page report from an investigative commission that concluded administrators and coaches did not condone misconduct but repeatedly failed to keep track of the football program.

The report said some players felt pressured to offer sex, drugs and alcohol to recruits and that the athletics department operated largely unfettered for years without administrative oversight.

That argument is at the heart of federal lawsuits filed against the school by three women who say they were raped by football athletes in 2001. Six other women have leveled similar accusations since 1997, but no assault charges have ever been filed.

The regents delivered the report to university President Betsy Hoffman and asked her to make recommendations. Many regents also expressed support for Hoffman, who was criticized in the report as someone who failed to take action until she was pressured to do so by the governor.

Many members of the commission were hoping for more action by the regents to demonstrate a commitment to restoring the university's tarnished image.

Martin, commission co-chair Peggy Lamm and John DiBiaggio, a former university president hired by the school to assess the athletic department's culture, all said personnel changes need to be made.

All declined to say who they think should go, and DiBiaggio said personnel decisions would be up to the president and the chancellor. Hoffman has solid support from the regents and she said Wednesday that Chancellor Richard Byyny's job is safe.

That leaves athletic director Richard Tharp and suspended football coach Gary Barnett as the probable fall guys. The report accused Tharp of maintaining a facade of "plausible deniability" when it came to the actions of recruits and their hosts.

Barnett, meanwhile, was described as someone resistant to change. He was suspended for comments he made in two of the alleged assault cases, including that of former player Katie Hnida, who said she was raped by a teammate in 2000.

Among other things, the investigative commission complained it wanted to know more about a cryptic e-mail from Barnett that asked Tharp, "how aggressive shoould I be re; katie .... sexual conquests by her etc."

Barnett declined to comment when reached Thursday, while Tharp did not return messages. Hoffman said she will make her recommendations by the end of the month.

Lamm said she held out hope that the university is working on personnel changes behind the scenes, outside public scrutiny.

Allegations of sexual assault by recruits first surfaced in 1997 and were investigated by Boulder County prosecutors. Mary Keenan, now the Boulder County district attorney, said she put the university "on notice" in 1998 about recruit behavior.

Byyny and Tharp have both said they don't recall the meeting that way.

"Overall point, it's hard to miss the fact there have been certain people who have been in charge for a very long time and I think the blame properly lies there," Lamm said. "This is a problem that has been there for years."

She said efforts to improve things many times simply resulted "in more rules going onto the books."

DiBiaggio, who was hired for $100,000 to look at the athletics department through June and report back to Hoffman, said the argument that administrators or coaches didn't know what recruits and players were doing doesn't wash.

"I don't think you can say we can only monitor their behavior in the classroom or in the field," said DiBiaggio, a former president of Tufts, Michigan State and Connecticut universities. "Many of these players often come with very checkered pasts. If you take on responsibility for a high risk student, then I think you have a responsibility to help that student succeed."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press