AURORA, Colo. – Colorado announced sweeping changes to its scandal-ridden football program Thursday, barring recruits from visiting bars and private parties and putting them under the close supervision of parents and coaches.
Calling the new guidelines the strictest in the nation, university president Betsy Hoffman (search) said recruits will now only visit the Boulder campus during the offseason. All activities will be planned, approved and supervised by a coach.
The recruits, primarily high school athletes, will also be limited to a single night's stay during campus visits, instead of the usual two. A 1 a.m. curfew will be moved up to 11 p.m.
"As painful an experience as it may be, we view it as an opportunity to set the standard for an issue all colleges and universities must be concerned about," Hoffman said.
Seven women have accused Colorado football players or recruits of rape since 1997. The school faces federal lawsuits by three of the women who say they were raped by football athletes at or just after a 2001 off-campus recruiting party.
Asked if the new guidelines will hurt recruiting, school chancellor Richard Byyny said: "It really doesn't matter. We want to have a model program."
"We want to make sure students understand they are here first for an education," he said.
Football coach Gary Barnett (search) is on paid leave for remarks he made in connection with two of the seven rape allegations, including disparaging the athletic ability of a former player who said she was raped by a teammate in 2000. No charges have been filed in the cases.
Colorado football players also have been accused of hiring strippers for recruits and taking recruits to parties where alcohol was available.
Boulder County prosecutor Mary Keenan has said she believes the program offered sex and alcohol to lure recruits to Boulder, a claim university officials have denied.
The Board of Regents has appointed a panel to investigate, and Gov. Bill Owens (search) tabbed the state's attorney general as a special prosecutor to determine whether criminal charges should be filed. The scandal helped spur a congressional hearing on college recruiting practices that is scheduled for next week.
Hoffman said some of the recruiting changes have been discussed for more than two years. She also said the changes were consistent with what Barnett was considering before he was put on leave.
"There's no question circumstances have thrust us into taking a national leadership role in reforming college sports recruiting," Hoffman said.
An NCAA task force will look at recruiting practices this spring.
"Obviously, the university's leadership is moving in a direction that will help ensure that any recruiting practices in the future adhere to the university's strict guidelines," NCAA spokesman Jeff Howard said.
University officials announced no personnel changes Thursday. There has been widespread speculation that the scandal will cost Barnett or someone else their job.
The announcement came as the regents added a victims' advocate to the seven-member panel investigating the scandal. Jean McAllister works in the domestic abuse assistance program in the state Department of Human Services and once chaired the board of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (search).
Barnett has said he expects the football program will be exonerated. He told Denver's KMGH-TV on Wednesday that the school has never used sex and alcohol to land recruits.
"It's urban legend," he said.