Fund-raising investigation latest black mark

Updated: November 22, 2004, 9:59 PM ET
Associated Press

BOULDER, Colo. -- University of Colorado athletic director Dick Tharp resigned Monday, acknowledging his bosses wanted him out after a recruiting scandal and allegations of financial mismanagement had stained the school's reputation.

Investigators scrutinized Tharp and football coach Gary Barnett after allegations that sex and alcohol were used to entice recruits, and lawsuits accused players and recruits of sexual assault.

Dick Tharp
APColorado athletic director Dick Tharp finally bowed to pressure Monday and tendered his resignation.

Barnett was suspended in the spring but kept his job and will coach the Buffaloes in their regular-season finale against Nebraska on Friday.

Tharp, 56, will step aside Nov. 30.

"I am fully aware of the fact that various parties have called for my resignation," he said in a letter to provost Phil DiStefano, who oversees the athletic department. "Healing might be better achieved by my resignation," he wrote.

Tharp also said he had been informed "that the leaders of this university have decided in favor of my departure."

He called the turmoil of the past several months "the most frustrating experience of my life" but said his resignation wasn't an admission of wrongdoing.

"When completely investigated, the record will show that I have performed my duties responsibly," Tharp said.

This month, new allegations surfaced about fund-raising efforts by a small booster club, a business deal between Barnett and a Colorado regent and other financial mismanagement issues. The booster-club issue compelled school officials to report the case to the NCAA.

Last summer, a grand jury, an independent commission and the university investigated the recruiting and sexual abuse allegations. No sexual assault charges were filed, but one former recruiting aide was indicted on charges of soliciting a prostitute and misusing his university cell phone.

The independent commission concluded that some players arranged sex, drugs and alcohol for recruits without the knowledge of coaches.

The commission harshly criticized Tharp and other administrators, accusing them of lax oversight. Tharp's duties were severely curtailed and the department was put under DiStefano's supervision.

Despite the turmoil and questions about Barnett's own job security, the Buffaloes are bowl-eligible with a surprisingly good 6-4 record and in contention for the Big 12 North Division title.

The coach labeled Tharp's resignation as just another in the multitude of distractions his team has faced over the past several months.

"I don't think this will affect them," Barnett said.

If Colorado defeats Nebraska and Missouri beats Iowa State on Saturday, the Buffaloes will play Oklahoma on Dec. 4 in the Big 12 title game.

Regent Jim Martin said he welcomed Tharp's resignation but called it "too little, too late."

"This is a needed step, but it came late in the game. This has been going on for nine months. It's a small step but it is certainly not a cure-all in terms of our credibility," Martin said.

Tharp's support had also been eroding among boosters in part because he proposed charging football season-ticket holders a surcharge in an attempt to raise revenue.

Tharp has spent 25 years at Colorado, his alma mater -- nine as athletics director and 16 more in other capacities.

The school will name an interim athletic director and then conduct a national search for a permanent replacement. University policy calls for any search to begin within the school's ranks.

Martin said he supports women's basketball coach Ceal Barry, who has coached 21 seasons at Colorado, to fill the spot.

"She's the kind of candidate who would make sense," Martin said. "She has distinguished herself for her openness and communication skills."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press