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February 01, 2004

Carousing the Norm for Colorado Recruit Visits?

FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN STATE COMES a strong warning from Gov. Bill Owens to the University of Colorado. In an unambiguously worded letter to CU president Betsy Hoffman and the University of Colorado Board of Regents, the governor demanded answers about accusations that the football team is knowingly using alcohol and sex to lure high school recruits.

"Women are not recruiting tools," said Owens.

The governor (the father of a college-age daughter) did not parse his words in his demand for answers and explanations. "There is a very short window for the university administration to fully account for its actions, or else we will do so over here," Owens said.

Colorado AD Dick Tharp and football coach Gary Barnett denied that sex or alcohol is being used as a recruiting tool. Tharp issued a statement denying any athletic department policy of using women as sexual lures, "I categorically deny any suggestion or intimation that we engage in or condone such reprehensible conduct."

The allegations resurfaced in the aftermath of a deposition in which Boulder County District Attorney Mary Keenan reported disturbing accusations and findings related to CU’s alleged energetic and unconventional campus visit hospitality. Keenan was deposed as a witness in the case of Lisa Simpson, a former CU student, who is bringing a Title IX lawsuit against the university stemming from a 2001 recruit party in which group sex is alleged to have been the main entertainment.

Ms. Simpson alleges that she was raped at that party, but DA Keenan did not think she could prove that accusation beyond a reasonable doubt. At issue is the degree to which this group sex was consensually engaged in by the four women involved.

In a 2003 deposition, Coach Barnett said that four or five of his players said that Simpson passed out condoms before they entered a bedroom with four women. Barnett said he was told that group sex ensued. Hmm. He said that they said.

Surely everyone has a different interpretation of what is consensual sex. Ask Kobe Bryant. Or Mike Tyson. Some guys have trouble figuring out when “no” really means “no.”

In her deposition, Keenan said a former athletic department official told her that Barnett and Tharp were reluctant to clean up recruiting visits because they feared that they would not be able to attract blue chip prospects to CU. "He said they deliberately chose partiers to host the recruits for that reason (because they were partiers)," she said.

NCAA rules for recruitment visits are decidedly vague and unspecific. NCAA spokeswoman Kay Hawes cited three rules that cover recruitment visits:
• Institutions may entertain prospects only at a scale comparable to normal student life.
• Institutions cannot permit excessive entertainment of a prospect.
• A school may provide student hosts with no more than $30 to cover all costs of entertaining recruits with outside meals and souvenirs.

There’s a lot left to interpretation as to the parameters of “excessive entertainment” and “normal student life.” However, when the alleged “excesses” of the Colorado recruitment visits are compared to “normal student life” at CU, perhaps they don’t seem so “excessive” after all.

As a case in point: a Princeton Review list of “Best 351 Colleges” had the University of Colorado listed as the #1 Party School. CU ranked third in use of marijuana, fourth in hard liquor consumption and 11th in beer usage. CU also ranked first among schools where students study the least. According to Bob Maust, of the A Matter Of Degree Program, nearly 63% of students at CU binge drink.

Against such a backdrop of debauchery and revelry, a golden-tongued litigator might successfully argue that group sex recruiting parties at Colorado are actually not that excessive after all.


(Denver Post 1-30-04)