IIC Releases Report

The Independent Investigative Commission released its report and recommendations concerning the so-called scandal surrounding the CU football program's recruiting practices today. The 53-page report sharply criticized school and athletic department leadership over the past several years. But while it stated that alcohol and sex were used to recruit student athletes, the IIC said it didn't find evidence that any CU official sanctioned nor had any knowledge of or involvement in that practice.

The panel, formed at the request of the CU Board of Regents, met 15 times over the past two and a half months, and heard from 56 witnesses. Its original charge was to examine CU's policies regarding sexual misconduct and alcohol and substance abuse, as well as the athletic department's policies surrounding those issues.

And the IIC was to determine whether or not sex and alcohol was used as a recruiting tool by the athletic department and whether or not coaches and administrators urged their use.

The eight-member panel acknowledged "that the vast majority of student-athletes who compete on behalf of the University do so without bringing disrepute to the institution."

But the panel pointed its finger at the CU athletic leadership — namely chancellor Richard Byyny, athletic director Dick Tharp and head football coach Gary Barnett — and recommended that CU president Elizabeth Hoffman consider whether those named are "capable of and committed to providing the leadership necessary to effect profound changes in culture, structure and reporting systems" at CU.

If further claimed that Byyny and Tharp failed to communicate effectively or "develop solutions to identified recruiting problems."

It also urged the Regents to evaluate whether or not president Hoffman "can provide the leadership and vision needed to restore the University's integrity and reputation."

That reputation has taken a hit nationally and locally since February when depositions in a Title IX lawsuit were made public to news agencies, causing a firestorm of media coverage. Colorado governor Bill Owens also jumped into the fray, calling the football team an embarrassment in February. The comment was challenged Monday by a handful of CU football parents, who have for months said much of the coverage in the media, as well as some of the public comments by some CU officials have unfairly painted their sons with a bad brush.

The lawsuit stems from a Dec. 7, 2001, party where three female CU students say they were sexually assaulted by football recruits. After two law enforcement entities investigated the case — the Boulder District Attorney, and the state Attorney General's office — no charges have been brought because of lack of evidence.

Neither have charges ever been brought in any of the other sexual assault allegations connected to the football team since 1997. Most recently, two current football players were cleared through DNA tests after they had become suspects in a case in which one of the accuser's main pieces of information was that she remembered to talking to two men who were "big and black" at a bar earlier in the evening that she was allegedly raped.

Unfinished business?
The panel also seemed to have a grasp on the highly competitive nature of college football recruiting, and admitted the task of luring the best student-athletes to any given program "is daunting."

Also made clear was the fact that the NCAA has specific rules about the number of logos a player can wear, but "fails to adopt rules governing more substantial and potentially life-threatening issues such as alcohol use, acquaintance rape and other inappropriate behavior."

At Colorado, Barnett included several pages on those issues in the CU Player's Handbook in 2002. Also included in the handbook over the past years is a document that player-hosts had to sign when they hosted recruits, which included the cryptic warning: "As a host I am an ambassador of the University of Colorado and the football program. I understand the importance of behaving accordingly."

But the IIC claimed that "administrators and coaches failed to clearly explain rules, responsibilities and standards of expected behavior to player-hosts," and that "some hosts felt pressured to impress recruits and resorted to providing alcohol, drugs and sex, including visits to strip clubs and the hiring of strippers."

Two players were suspended from the 2004 season opener after it was learned they took a recruit to a Boulder strip club this January.

Also, the panel brought up one aspect of the investigations over the past months that seems to be unfinished business. Former recruiting assistant Nathan Maxcey admitted to making 15 calls to a local prostitute service. Though Maxcey maintained that they were for his personal use, the attorneys for three prostitutes say that Maxcey "paid at least $2,000 in cash over a 45-day period and arranged sex for other young men at the Omni Hotel," where CU usually houses its visiting recruits.

The report urged a continuing investigation by law enforcement into this aspect of the issue. Maxcey worked at CU from June 2002 to July 2003, when he left for a similar position at another school.

Academic reform
The panel seemed to acknowledge the different atmosphere that the CU football program operates in when compared to other schools in the Big 12 Conference.

"Other teams in the conference are located in communities that are more supportive of their football teams than Boulder is of the University's program. The tension between academics and athletics is particularly keen at" CU.

However, the panel urged adoption of the Boulder Faculty Assembly's recent recommendations concerning consolidations of responsibilities for the athletic department from the CU-Boulder chancellor to the provost. It was obvious by BFA report that it feels the athletic department has lost track of the University's overall objective is to educate its students.

The IIC recommended that annual performance evaluations of athletic director and coaches "include an assessment of how well they are meeting explicit expectations regarding the academic achievement and graduation rates of student-athletes in their programs." It also said that student athlete's grad rates should be as high as those for non-athletes, but did not give explanation as to that reasoning.

Historically, the NCAA has calculated grad rates for student athletes that critics say are unfair and misleading. The NCAA does not account for student athletes who transfer, or who abandon their sport before exhausting their eligibility. Nor does it include student athletes who eventually finish their degree work after five years. Also, student athletes who transfer into a program and then graduate are not counted toward a program's graduation rate.

Counting student athletes who exhausted their eligibility (five years, in most cases), the CU program graduated 38 of 43 students in 2003-04. That 88-percent rate is considerably higher than CU's overall rate of 67 percent.

Perhaps more controversial is the suggestion by the IIC that over time the football program not be allowed to admit student athletes to the school via an academic "window" that is lower than the school's overall admittance requirements. The report states that 73 percent of the football team was admitted to CU through that special window.

Hoffman said last month that she plans to announce whether or not to retain Barnett, who was placed on administrative leave in February, at the end of May.

The regents will convene Wednesday in a public meeting at 9 a.m. at the Glenn Miller Ballroom in the UMC on the Boulder campus to discuss the IIC report.

The report can be read in its entirety at: coiic.org/docs/IIC Final Report.pdf