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
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
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."