DENVER – In a blistering report that stopped short of calling for firings, an investigative panel said Tuesday sex, alcohol and drugs were used to lure football recruits to the University of Colorado (search) and lax oversight by top university officials was to blame.
The panel's report said there was no evidence officials condoned misconduct, but it suggested they were lazy, ineffective or simply ignored what was going on in the top athletic program at the state's flagship university.
"The university's leadership must be held accountable for systemic failings that jeopardized students' safety and allowed for ongoing misconduct in the football recruiting program," the report said.
Members of the eight-person panel said their investigation had confirmed collegiate athletics nationwide are undermined by a "hyper-competitive recruiting 'arms race' that is complicated by the presence of big money, lucrative media and easy access to alcohol and sex."
At Colorado, the panel said, player-hosts "felt pressured to impress recruits and resorted to providing alcohol, drugs and sex, including visits to strip clubs and the hiring of strippers." The report did not detail the alleged drug use.
The 50-page report from the Board of Regents panel had been eagerly awaited in part because the future of suspended football coach Gary Barnett (search) likely hangs in the balance.
The report said Barnett and his staff failed to sufficiently monitor football recruits and that he personally did not follow protocol following reports of sexual assault or harassment.
The report singled out Athletic Director Dick Tharp and Chancellor Richard Byyny for particular criticism, suggesting both failed to pay proper attention to what was going on.
The panel did not call for job changes, but said university President Betsy Hoffman must decide whether all three men are capable of changing the culture and structure of the program. It also said the regents should evaluate whether Hoffman herself can restore the university's "integrity and reputation" after a scandal that drew national scorn and criticism from Gov. Bill Owens (search).
"As the university's chief administrator, Hoffman failed to exercise sufficient oversight until pressured by the governor and lawmakers," the report said.
University spokeswoman Michele Ames said no one at the school would comment on the report. Barnett did not return calls seeking comment, but his agent, Gary O'Hagan, said the scandal reminded him of the Salem witch trials.
"There are people who owe Gary Barnett an apology," he said. "His entire family and he were dragged through the mud needlessly because people have an agenda out there. ... Is he perfect? No. Did he commit any crimes? No. Did he break any rules? No."
At least nine women have said they were raped by football players or recruits since 1997, though no charges have been filed. Three of the women have sued the school in federal court, accusing it of violating federal Title IX (search) laws against gender discrimination.
Attorney General Ken Salazar, tapped as a special prosecutor by the governor at the height of the scandal in February, said last week he had turned up no new evidence warranting criminal charges. Boulder police also cleared two football players in one of the cases.
Boulder County District Attorney Mary Keenan said the report validated her claim that sex and alcohol were recruiting tools, an allegation that helped spark the scandal earlier this year.
"I hope we go where we always wanted to go, the road to making needed and effective change," Keenan said. "That's all anyone ever wanted."
The regents' panel was formed to investigate Keenan's accusations and determine whether university officials knew of wrongdoing.
"There is evidence demonstrating that sex, alcohol and drugs were used as football recruiting tools by some player-hosts and possibly a football recruiting assistant," the report concluded. "There is no clear evidence that university officials knowingly sanctioned this, or had direct involvement."
The commission, however, said the athletic department has long lacked "strong oversight" from the president or chancellor, who oversees the Boulder campus and its 25,000-plus students.
The panel had sharp criticism for Tharp, the athletic director at Colorado since 1996. It said he ignored repeated directives to implement policy changes while espousing a philosophy of "plausible deniability" when faced with accusations of misconduct by student athletes and employees.
As for Byyny, who has been in charge of the Boulder campus since 1997, the report said he had exerted little or no authority over athletics and failed to implement the school's goal of putting academics "above winning on the playing field."
Barnett was summed up as someone resistant to change with an "unproductive, defensive attitude." He was suspended in February over comments he made in two of the cases, including that of former Colorado player Katie Hnida, who said she was raped by a teammate in 2000.