BOULDER, Colo. -- Calling it the right thing to do, the president of the University of Colorado reinstated suspended football coach Gary Barnett on Thursday and said no one will lose their jobs for one of the worst college athletics scandals in years.
"I do not believe that coaches and administrators at this
university knowingly used sex, alcohol and drugs as recruiting
tools," President Betsy Hoffman said at a crowded news conference.
"It is clear that in a few isolated instances, recruits attended
parties where they consumed alcohol and had sexual encounters. That
is unacceptable, and we are taking steps to see that this kind of
behavior does not occur again."
Hoffman and Richard Byyny, the chancellor of the flagship
Boulder campus, also detailed a "sweeping" overhaul of the
athletics department intended to boost oversight, clamp down on its
autonomy and place a new emphasis on academic achievement.
Barnett and athletics director Richard Tharp will remain in
place to help implement the changes.
The announcement had been eagerly anticipated, in part to see
whether anyone would take the fall for a scandal that has helped
prompt an NCAA task force and congressional hearings on recruiting.
Nine women since 1997 have accused Colorado football players or recruits of sexual assault, though local prosecutors and the
attorney general decided against filing charges. Three of the women
have sued Colorado in federal court, saying the school fostered a
hostile environment that contributed to their assaults.
The lawsuits are still pending and so is a grand jury
investigation believed to be looking into whether university funds
were used to hire call girls.
Victims' advocates said after the announcement that they were worried bigger problems were being brushed aside.
"We don't approve of Barnett in any way shape or form, but this is not just one person's problem," said Cynthia Stone of the
Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "We've seen this
problem before under different coaches. That's what we want to see
Hoffman placed Barnett on paid leave Feb. 18 for comments he made about two of the women. He called former kicker Katie Hnida a "terrible" player hours after she said she had been raped by a
teammate in 2000.
Barnett also said he would "back" a player accused of
assaulting a 19-year-old athletics department worker in 2001, a
statement Hoffman said left her "utterly distressed."
Some in the crowd began to applaud at the news that Barnett
would be reinstated, but Hoffman held up a hand to stop them.
"Did coach Barnett say things that I and others have found
offensive? The answer is yes. And for that he has paid a price,"
She also said athletes, both men and women, and others had
endorsed Barnett as a solid mentor and disciplinarian worth
Barnett said he was grateful for the support he has received
during the scandal and that he appreciated Hoffman's decision. He
said he was dedicated to leading "a socially responsible program
that will be a source of pride" to the school, athletically and
Hoffman stopped just short of apologizing to sexual misconduct victims, saying she empathized "with the suffering and frustration some of you have experienced." But she also said some criticism of Byyny, Tharp and Barnett amounted to "blood sport."
"This is not a soap opera, or a cartoon or a caricature," she
said. "These are extremely serious matters that deeply affect the
people involved and their families."
Gary Klatt, father of Colorado quarterback Joel Klatt, said he
"I don't think it's necessarily a time for celebration because
there have been a lot of people hurt," he said. "I really believe
that if there is any good to come out of this it is that there will
be some reform, hopefully throughout college football. I think the
reform could begin at the University of Colorado."
Earlier this month, an investigative commission appointed by the
university Board of Regents and a special liaison chosen by Hoffman
recommended more oversight of the athletic department, which has
been led by Tharp since 1997.
Last week, the commission concluded sex, drugs and alcohol were
used by player-hosts in recruiting but there was no evidence
Colorado officials "knowingly sanctioned" the activities.
The report criticized Barnett, Tharp, Hoffman and Byyny for lax
oversight and slow reactions to recruiting problems. The regents,
however, publicly endorsed Hoffman and said they would wait for her recommendations.
The changes begin July 1.