Critics will wait to see if change happens

Updated: May 27, 2004, 9:56 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Now comes the hard part.

Reforms outlined by the University of Colorado to clean up its troubled athletics program got generally good reviews Thursday, but critics and supporters alike said the real proof will be in the results.

"Statements are one thing. What we need to see is actions," said Cynthia Stone of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

University President Elizabeth Hoffman unveiled a far-reaching shake-up designed to rein in athletics after allegations of rape, drunken recruiting parties and lax supervision. She declined to fire either football coach Gary Barnett or athletics director Richard Tharp.

Stone, who called Barnett's behavior "disgusting," was heartened that Hoffman came out strongly in defense of victims of sexual assault. But Stone said the entire university has to change.

"From the regents on the down to the guy who carries that water out to the football games, they all need to be committed to making those changes that will prevent this from happening again," she said.

Hoffman's 11-page reform plan calls for reducing the athletics department's autonomy, giving faculty a say over academic standards for athletes and conducting annual evaluations of the department. Among other things, the plan calls for a campus climate that "does not tolerate violence against women" and ensures ethical behavior. It also outlines a goal of fiscal responsibility.

A final report will be delivered at the end of June. The organizational changes will be in place July 1.

James Duderstadt, a former University of Michigan president who wrote a book contending that athletics hurts academics, called the recommendations "right on target."

The plan brings the athletic program more in line with Big 10 and Atlantic Coast Conference schools, and goes beyond the norm for Big 12 universities, he said.

"Colorado through this experience could put themselves in a significant leadership position," Duderstadt said.

"If you allow these institutions to be independent, they pretend they're an NFL franchise, and sooner or later they walk off the cliff," Duderstadt said. "You have to rein them in."

Hoffman and Chancellor Richard Byyny may run into opposition from athletics officials as they reassert university control, said John DiBiaggio, a retired academic hired by Hoffman to review CU's sports programs.

"The traditional view, in the recent past at least, is that (athletics programs) are autonomous because they generate income for themselves," said DiBiaggio, a former president of Tufts, Michigan State and Connecticut universities.

"So that resistance is always there. They will contend they should be able to manage their affairs, and that if they don't, they won't be competitive," DiBiaggio said.

Hoffman and Byyny will have to be persistent, DiBiaggio said.

"I told them just to hold fast on accountability, put structures in place that couldn't be circumvented, and to hold their feet to the fire."

He said signs of success may be subtle: athletes getting better grades, stirring up fewer reports of misconduct and moving more into the mainstream of student life.

"Those will all be good barometers," he said. "Those are not as quantifiable as some might like."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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