Hoffman disagreed with commission's findings

Updated: June 16, 2004, 4:23 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- A deposition that sparked fresh protests over the University of Colorado's handling of a sordid recruiting scandal also contains the most detailed account into why nobody lost their jobs.

Colorado president Elizabeth Hoffman disagreed with an independent commission that concluded that football coach Gary Barnett violated university policy by not reporting a sexual assault, and that athletic director Dick Tharp maintained an attitude of "plausible deniability."

Hoffman's statements were found in transcripts released Tuesday of her June 5 deposition in a federal court case. University spokesman Michele Ames said Colorado officials would not comment.

The independent commission, appointed by the Board of Regents that oversees the school, also found that Hoffman, Tharp, Boulder campus Chancellor Richard Byyny and Barnett did not condone players' use of sex and alcohol in recruiting but failed to supervise recruiting closely enough.

Hoffman said Tharp denied using the term "plausible deniability" when it came to the actions of recruits and their hosts, and she couldn't find anybody in the department who heard Tharp say that.

"I don't know where that came from, other than the fact that I believe Mary Keenan used that term in her meeting with me," Hoffman testified, referring to the Boulder County district attorney whose comments in another deposition that sex, drugs and alcohol were used to recruit football players helped spark the scandal. "I have no idea who in the athletic department, where that might have come from."

She said she ignored advice from athletics liaison John DiBiaggio, a former president of three universities and a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, who recommended Tharp be fired.

Hoffman said she was mostly interested in changes in the organization and did not ask for that advice. DiBiaggio was paid about $21,000 per month for roughly three months of work this spring.

DiBiaggio also expressed concern about Barnett but stopped short of calling for his termination, Hoffman said.

Last month, Hoffman announced a "sweeping" overhaul that will bring the embattled athletics department under stricter oversight and place a new emphasis on academic achievement. She expressed confidence that Tharp and Barnett could implement the changes.

However, Hoffman said in the deposition that Barnett's contract is being renegotiated over concerns that it should specify how he will be held accountable.

Nine women since 1997 have accused Colorado football players or recruits of sexual assault, but local prosecutors and the state attorney general decided against filing charges. Three of the women have filed federal lawsuits, accusing Colorado of fostering a hostile environment that helped contribute to their assaults. Depositions in those suits helped spark the scandal in late January.

Hoffman placed Barnett on paid leave Feb. 18 for comments he made about two of the women. One was former Buffaloes kicker Katie Hnida, who said she was raped by a teammate in 2000. Answering questions from reporters about Hnida, the coach called her a "terrible" player. Hnida now attends the University of New Mexico.

Hoffman was asked about a cryptic e-mail that Barnett sent to Tharp the day before he was suspended:

"How aggressive shoould I be re; katie....sexual conquests by her etc." [sic]

"I think it's one of those things that he wishes he hadn't said," Hoffman said. "I don't think he thinks it was necessary."

Barnett has said his comments about Hnida's football performance were "insensitive" and that he was trying to convey a message of support for her in the e-mail. He said that instead of "aggressive" he should have used the word "discreet."

Barnett also said he would "back" a player accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old athletics department worker in 2001. Hoffman did not learn of that alleged assault until this year.

Hoffman testified that the school's policy on student-on-student sexual assault was unclear, and Barnett could have understood that sending the woman to victim's assistance satisfied a university reporting requirement.

Meanwhile, women's groups on Tuesday criticized Hoffman for refusing in her deposition to condemn a vulgar anatomical reference that a football player allegedly used to describe Hnida.

Hoffman defended her answer Tuesday in a meeting with Durango (Colo.) Herald reporters and editors, but said she should have phrased it differently.

"I was immediately sorry I said it," she said.

Hoffman began to cry at one point in the discussion at the Herald and left the room briefly to compose herself, the newspaper reported.

In her deposition, Hoffman replied it was a "swear word" and that its meaning depended on the circumstances in which it was used, according to a copy of the June 5 deposition.

Asked if it could ever be used in a polite context, Hoffman replied: "Yes, I've actually heard it used as a term of endearment."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press