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Regent: 'Somebody's head needs to roll'

5/20/2004 - Colorado Buffaloes

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."