Barnett: Team 'responded well' to ordeal
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When talking about the sex allegations that have rocked the Colorado football program, coach Gary Barnett believes there is one word that should never be used.
"I'd like to officially not acknowledge the word 'scandal,' " Barnett said Thursday at Big 12 football media day, "and would not like to have that word dealt with in here."
Nevertheless, Colorado became the national focus of bad behavior by college athletes last spring amid the allegations, which also included charges that recruits were plied with consensual sex.
"No other team in college football is looking forward more to the season than we are," Barnett said in his first meeting with regional and national media since the allegations first came to light.
"We are even looking forward to practice. This team ... responded very well throughout the entire ordeal."
The school became the focus of national media attention early this year after three women filed federal civil lawsuits claiming Colorado failed to ensure them an equal opportunity for education by fostering an environment that led to sexual assault. In all, at least nine women have alleged they were sexually assaulted by Colorado football players of recruits since 1997.
Barnett was suspended Feb. 18 after making disparaging comments about two of the women, including former Colorado kicker Katie Hnida, who had told a national magazine she was raped by a former teammate in 2000.
Barnett was reinstated May 28 after an investigative panel concluded he shouldn't be fired.
No sexual assault charges have been filed, but a state grand jury is investigating the alleged rapes and allegations that a former recruiting aide hired prostitutes for recruits.
State Attorney General Ken Salazar has been appointed by the governor as a special prosecutor.
Nevertheless, Barnett said keeping focused on football shouldn't be a problem for the team.
"We've learned a great deal over the last six months how to handle that," he said. "If anybody's prepared to handle that, we are."
The Buffaloes, he said, have emerged "a stronger and better football team."
"I think we have a chance to be a pretty good team. We've got 11 starters back."
Barnett said he learned many things during the long ordeal.
"I took every day as a chance to learn something," Barnett said. "What I learned for myself is how important friends are, how important encouragement from your peers is, how important e-mail is.
"Ten years ago I wouldn't have had access to 10-12 positive e-mails every morning I woke up to that really got me through the day and encouraged my family a great deal. "I learned that no matter what happens that day, it isn't going to be terminal and no matter what was going to happen the next day, that wasn't going to be terminal, either."
He said he heard constantly from other coaches.
"I got tremendous support from almost every coach in this conference," he said. "I bet I heard from 75 to 80 percent of my peers in Division I. Some would e-mail, some would call. They were tremendously supportive of me."
Quarterback Joel Klatt said the players would be able to keep their focus on football.
"We still we had to go to school. We still had to be college students and we still had to be college football players," he said. "We did what we had to do and we did it to the best of our abilities and we got closer because of it."
Barnett was asked what word he would use instead of scandal to describe what befell the program.
"Give me some time to think about that," he said. "I refuse to acknowledge (scandal) as a proper word to describe it."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press