Editorial: Hoffman Puts Her Foot Down

Gary Barnett is back. Dick Tharp remains. His hands are red from being slapped. And he's got a new boss. Most student athletes at CU are good. Anyone who commits sexual assault is bad. And the CU faculty has more political power these days than any group on the CU-Boulder campus. That's what we learned from CU President Elizabeth Hoffman's speech Thursday.

To fully understand the impact of all the bureaucratic shifting that's about to go on in the wake of her Preliminary Action Plan, you'd have to have been encased in the halls of academe for the past two decades. But to Hoffman's credit, she managed to toss a tidbit to everyone who thought they had something at stake in this whole football program controversy. And she managed to come off as strong and decisive at the same time.

All but the most radical fringes in the whole political power grab-fest probably feel like they were heard in this months-long process. But most of all, the Boulder Faculty Assembly looks like it had the president's ear. Witness the changes in the athletic department's place at CU.

In short, Tharp will now report to the CU-Boulder Provost, like the academic departments on campus, instead of Chancellor Richard Byyny. An Academic Policy Board on Athletes will be created; the Provost will oversee academic decisions on student athlete admissions and eligibility; the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs will be involved in disciplinary actions of student athletes, when needed.

Or, as Hoffman said, "Our Action Plan is aimed at correcting the conditions and structural problems that have been highlighted in the past few months. It deeply integrates the Athletics Department in the University, corrects some of the autonomy and isolation issues, and puts the department on a par with academic departments in its reporting and accountability relationships."

In other words, the faculty won.

Random Thoughts

Lawsuit Strategy
Hoffman revealed some insight into how she and the university are posturing in the ongoing lawsuit brought by three women who allege they were raped at a party in 2001. The president said that any kind of sexual assault is unacceptable anywhere. But she also made clear that the responsibility of the university has its limits.

Students are old enough to vote, she said, and they're "old enough to be responsible for their own conduct and the consequences of it."

She could have been speaking to the six women at the back of the room who held homemade placards through the entire speech. One read, "Hoffman is Spineless." Another said, "I believe Lisa, I believe Monique, I believe Katie," referring to three plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

I wonder if the women at the back of the room believe the part of Lisa Simpson's deposition testimony where she admits she was too drunk to remember if she ever said "no" during the sordid evening, or the part where she said she was drunk before noon, or that it was the female hosts who supplied the booze and a bowl of condoms at the infamous party.

I wonder if the women in the back of the room understand that their continuous shrill, irrational and rage-fueled arguments damage the credibility of their cause by turning off would-be sympathizers.

Discount T-Shirts
Speaking of radicals, I wonder what the Free Barnett T-shirt crowd will do with their time now? What life will they now get now that they got what they wanted?

If the athletic department is smart, it will reach out in some tangible way to these people who organized letter-writing campaigns and made a big push to get people out to the spring game. They started something small, but significant.

For years, parts of the CU athletic department have been good at alienating its potential fan base. The department has functioned like a country club. Like an elite clique.

Case in point: I met an 80-year-old man from Oklahoma at the Big 12 title game two years ago. A real salt-of-the-earth guy. He told me how he'd lived in Denver for the past 10 years and had tried to become a donor and CU fan. But he said he never felt welcomed. In all that time, no one at CU ever reached out to him or his wife.

Meanwhile, when he lived in Norman years before that and was a minor donor to the OU department, Barry Switzer would call him by name and shake his hand whenever they crossed paths.

He finally gave up on CU, and returned his allegiance to OU. I rose a bus from the hotel to the stadium with him, and he sang "Boomer Sooner" all the way.

It's human nature to want to feel a part of something bigger than yourself. That's a big draw of college athletics – fans feeling like they are part of something.

Ask why the Buffs can't sell out football and basketball games and the same excuses are always rolled out – competition with area pro teams for sports dollars, Colorado's transient population, the mountains. But it's more than that.

For too long, it's been too hard for too many people to feel a part of CU athletics. Maybe this piece of humble pie that the department has been served will begin to change that country club culture.

Dead Man Walking?
The CU press office titled its release "CU Announces Sweeping Athletic Department Changes." Some quickly predicted that the changes would sweep the ability to compete for a Big 12 title in football year in and year out right out the door.

Is CU football a Dead Man Walking?

It is if they can't recruit classes full of good players, sprinkled with a few great players.

On Thursday, Hoffman and Byyny reiterated the new recruiting guidelines they put in place in March. The football office will try and turn the new guidelines into selling points. They'll point out to players' parents that the strict visit oversight and increased faculty involvement is unique, ahead of the curve.

And Hoffman, Byyny and Tharp said that remaining competitive on the playing field is a priority.

But, clearly, the football coaches will be hamstrung as they try and reel in top-flight student-athletes. Taking away visits during home games, eliminating the game day experience from a high school kid with stars in his eyes, takes away the easiest selling point. And limiting visits to a 24-hour period will be tricky.

Or, who knows? Maybe with all the rules the Buffs staff will be able to make it such a unique experience compared to the Texas A&M's, the Kansas State's and the Missouri's (face it, CU hasn't been recruiting against OU and Texas for three years) that recruits will leave their whirlwind stays with a strong positive impression of the program.

Either way, the effects of the recruiting changes probably won't be seen on the field until 2007. That's the season when most of the players in the 2003 signing class, considered a solid class by most prognosticators, are finishing up their eligibility.

That's also when Barnett's current contract is scheduled to end. And maybe after that it will be someone else's challenge to deal with.

BuffStampede Top Stories