Hoffman promises 'sweeping' changes in athletics
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.
-- Associated Press
"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 fixed."
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," Hoffman said.
She also said athletes, both men and women, and others had endorsed Barnett as a solid mentor and disciplinarian worth keeping.
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 academically.
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 was relieved.
The Independent Investigative Commission didn't find enough to pin on Gary Barnett, and to fire a coach on Memorial Day weekend, you better have a good reason. Starting over now would have sunk Colorado even deeper than the hole that Barnett and his program must now climb out of.
That said, I'm guessing that Barnett, athletic director Dick Tharp and anyone else with any sort of juice in the athletic department is on a policy of zero tolerance. If I were them, I wouldn't even risk turning right on red.
-- Ivan Maisel
"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.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press