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SPENCER MICHELS: The furor started in mid-January as a recruiting scandal at the University of Colorado in Boulder, with charges of sex and alcohol being used to attract high school athletes. Within weeks, the athletic department and the 29,000-student campus were rocked as the scandal escalated into a criminal investigation.
HOST: It’s 3:46, the time, Dave Logan, Scott Hastings with you, 303-713-8585 that is the number, and David in Denver is on 850 KOA, David, how are you?
SPENCER MICHELS: It has dominated Colorado news and sports talk radio.
DAVE LOGAN: In 40 years, I don’t think the University of Colorado football program has experienced a lower depth than as we sit today discussing.
SPENCER MICHELS: Every day seemed to bring new stories, strippers being hired to attract new football recruits at parties; women students being used to entice players. Three women claimed they were raped at a recruiting party and filed federal lawsuits claiming that the CU athletic department fostered an environment hostile to women. After the regents named a panel to investigate the charges, three more charges of rape and sexual assault against football players surfaced.
The situation got national attention when place kicker Katie Hnida, who was on the men’s football team in 1999, told “Sports Illustrated” this month that she had been groped by fellow players and raped by a teammate. Coach Gary Barnett who’s been at the university since 1999, responded to Hnida’s accusations.
GARY BARNETT: We discussed football issues, discussed team issues, and not at one time did she ever bring up to me any issue or any problem on our football team. In fact, she didn’t even bring up the one player who was verbally abusing her.
SPENCER MICHELS: Then he was asked about her ability as a kicker.
GARY BARNETT: You know what guys do? They respect your ability. You could be 90 years old, but if you can go out and play, they respect you. Well Katie was, Katie was a girl, and not only was she a girl, she was terrible, okay? And there’s no other way to say it. She couldn’t kick the ball through the uprights.
SPENCER MICHELS: His remarks caused an uproar. The next night president Elizabeth Hoffman and Chancellor Richard Byyny took measures to try to quell the critics.
ELIZABETH HOFFMAN: I was outraged and shocked by the allegation from Katie Hnida, the former kicker, that she’d been sexually assaulted. I also want to say that I was deeply disturbed by the comments that Coach Barnett made yesterday, focusing more on her kicking ability than on the message at hand, which is that we really need to address the sexual assault.
As I said yesterday, the chancellor and I will be appointing a special assistant to the president and the chancellor, to be in the athletic department and to really look at the issues about the culture, about the treatment of women, about issues of sexual assault, as well as issues surrounding recruiting.
SPENCER MICHELS: They also revealed that they had just discovered that in 2001 Coach Barnett had told an athletic department employee who alleged she had been raped that he would back his player 100 percent. They suspended Coach Barnett with pay– he earns almost $1 million a year– until the investigation was complete, although he insisted he hadn’t meant to link Hnida’s rape allegation with her playing ability.
Supporters of the team were outraged. . A group of more than 40 parents of football players held a press conference pledging their support for the University of Colorado and for the Buffalo football program.
PLAYER’S PARENT: We are disgusted and angry with the allegations that have come out in regards to our sons’ leaders, Coach Barnett, and how absurd and ridiculous it is that he or any members of his coaching staff would ever involve alcohol or sex parties to entice a student-athlete to attend this fine institution.
SPENCER MICHELS: Former players also came to the defense of their coach and team.
CHARLES JOHNSON: I also believe as a former student athlete and one who played under Coach Barnett, that he’s a guy of high moral integrity and a guy who I believe in, quite frankly.
That’s my independent opinion of Coach Gary Barnett, a guy who’s simply, I believe, done the right thing over the course of his time here. And again, I think it’s unfortunate that a balanced story has not been told with respect to CU, particularly and especially with respect to the young student-athletes who are students here at the University of Colorado.
SPOKESPERSON: Grab a poster…
SPENCER MICHELS: But others were furious that not enough was being done. A group of students held a rally asking the administration to put a sexual assault expert on the investigating team.
WOMAN: We need to remember that a lot of the comments that were made by officials have been hostile and insensitive to survivors of sexual assault.
WOMAN: Come on.
SPENCER MICHELS: Kathy Redmond, the head of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, said the situation at Colorado is not unique, she herself had been attacked by an athlete at the University of Nebraska.
KATHY REDMOND: It’s important to note that this just isn’t about C.U. This happens at every school, Division Three, Division One, it doesn’t matter, it happens everywhere. And that’s why it’s so important for me to take the time now to educate people that CU is not isolated at all.
SPENCER MICHELS: Other students worry about what the controversy will mean for the school’s reputation. Sergio Gonzales is one of three student body presidents.
SERGIO GONZALES: Actually I would say that’s probably the first thing students think about when major issues like this blow up, from the university is what does that mean for my degree? Students are worried that it’s going to have an impact that it’s going to tarnish the reputation of the university, therefore it’s going to tarnish and diminish the, the value of their degree.
SPENCER MICHELS: Some students think athletics distorts the university even when it’s scandal free.
STEVI FAWCETT: Our football and everything is so national and so popular among the students. But half the students on this campus don’t even know that the physics department, two of our physics people won a Nobel Prize in 2001. People don’t even know that, but they know whether football won or not last week.
SPENCER MICHELS: Chancellor Richard Byyny believes the university will not be tarnished by recent accusations.
RICHARD BYNNY: I would say that we want to have a model program. You learn from the experiences. This is an institution of learning. We learn from those experiences and we will make changes that are necessary to be able to get beyond this and to continue to run a really fine university.
SPENCER MICHELS: Marti Bickman, a professor of English at the university for 30 years, thinks the current crisis could be a great opportunity for the university to reassess its priorities.
MARTI BICKMAN: Clearly the administration feels we should maintain the football program, and they’re walking a very delicate balance between protecting the football program and trying to do right by the women who are making accusations. But, it would be wonderful if we could just reconsider: Well, do we as a community even want a football team?
SPENCER MICHELS: That’s a question that a member of the University of Colorado’s board of regents wants asked as well.
SPOKESPERSON: Gail? Hi, Jim Martin.
SPENCER MICHELS: Lawyer Jim Martin has been a regent for 11 years. He received two death threats this month for criticizing the university’s handling of the controversy. He says that money has turned intercollegiate football into a business and that major reform is needed.
JIM MARTIN: It’s an opportunity, it’s a challenge now to us to be able to look anew at where does intercollegiate athletics fit into this overall academic mission — and, to redefine the model, and the model, and I’m suggesting, still embraces the support in terms of, you know… but it makes it more private. It’s really more a symbiotic relationship rather than a direct relationship with the universities and colleges.
SPENCER MICHELS: Kathy Redmond is not hopeful that will happen. She thinks that Colorado like other schools with big, expensive football programs, will always give the team special privileges.
KATHY REDMOND: It happens all the time because the athletic department, the football teams and the basketball teams are the cash cows of the university. They’re revenue producing. So therefore, university presidents never take control of them. University presidents allow the athletic director and the coaches to call the shots, and in effect, they run the school.
SPENCER MICHELS: The chancellor argues that the football team is an important part of the university atmosphere.
RICHARD BYYNY: Our athletic program actually provides an excellent opportunity for young people to get an education, some of whom wouldn’t attend the university if they weren’t competitive athletes and remember, the athletic program is not just football.
There is, are young people in many different sports. They get an opportunity clearly to get an education here. We have a long history of having athletic programs here and that’s part of our culture today, when you think about the American culture, people are interested in sports. We continue to try and focus on the most important part, being education.
SPENCER MICHELS: But Byyny does believe these allegations could be a wake up call to re-evaluate his athletic department.
RICHARD BYYNY: Something like this is, is an alert. It tells us that we need to think about the issues and uh, and take them consider, you know, take them under consideration. Learn everything we can about them, not do that too slowly, I mean people want us to go ahead and make changes uh, within our campus.
SPENCER MICHELS: All of the recent developments in Colorado have prompted the NCAA to put together a committee to look at football recruiting policies nationwide. The association has promised to install new policies before the next recruiting season begins.