Out Of Control? The release of some 20 depositions in lawsuits filed by three women who allege they were raped on a night they partied with Colorado football players and recruits has raised questions about coach Gary Barnett's program and shed light on ta

Feb. 23, 2004
Feb. 23, 2004

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Feb. 23, 2004


Out Of Control? The release of some 20 depositions in lawsuits filed by three women who allege they were raped on a night they partied with Colorado football players and recruits has raised questions about coach Gary Barnett's program and shed light on ta

They all had heard stories. perhaps not surprisingly those
stories translated into wild expectations for some of the high
school football players on an official recruiting visit to the
University of Colorado campus in early December 2001. And
according to later depositions and police reports, four recruits
who arrived in Boulder on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 6, soon
had some of those expectations fulfilled. That night at least
five women, among them Colorado students, wound up in recruits'
hotel rooms, with one of the women spending the night. At one
point in the evening, one of the Colorado players who were
serving as hosts for the high schoolers showed a recruit a
video of a Buffaloes player having sex and told him, "This is
what you get when you come to Colorado."

This is an article from the Feb. 23, 2004 issue Original Layout

The next day two more recruits arrived--and the partying
continued. That night, after the high schoolers had toured
campus, met with an academic adviser and dined with coaches, some
of them gathered at the apartment of two player-hosts. While
stories of Thursday night's exploits were passed around the room,
along with rum and marijuana, one of the player-hosts worked the
phone, trying to connect with one of the women from the night
before. As the other host told investigators later, he thought
the high school players "expected" that sex would be arranged for
them because these were "top college recruits from around the

When the connection was made, the players got directions to an
off-campus apartment where four Colorado coeds were playing a
drinking game called the Hour of Power, during which they each
took a shot of beer every minute for 60 minutes. The recruits,
their player-hosts and other members of the football team piled
into three SUVs and headed to the women's apartment. As they
drove up, they saw two of the women standing on the median waving
them in.

By midnight, at least 15 players and recruits, some of them
drunk, were partying in the small two-bedroom apartment. By then
the women--who had been expecting only two recruits and two
hosts--were drunk as well. Several other women also turned up at
the apartment. Some players and recruits soon left, but several
of those who remained engaged in a dizzying array of sexual
activity with at least three women; one of the recruits later
would describe the scene to police as "a big porno." A woman and
a player had sex in a closet, and when they were done, the woman
was approached by a recruit who asked her to "show a recruit a
good time." As she turned away she was stopped by two players who
police say had their pants open, inviting her to perform another
sexual act.

Another woman was engaged in sex with a player on the edge of a
bed near where a third woman, Lisa Simpson, had lain down and, by
her own account, "passed out." When she awoke, according to her
deposition, Simpson found one of the men on top of her and
another standing over her. Both were engaged in sex acts with
her. "The players ... and the recruits just came in and
just--they didn't even ask to have sex with me. They just thought
it was okay," said Simpson. "And they were bigger and there
[were] more of them and they just--they could do whatever they
wanted to me." At 2 a.m., one of the women at the apartment
ordered the remaining players and recruits to leave.

THOUGH SIMPSON told police she had been raped, Boulder district
attorney Mary Keenan decided that because of the nature of the
party and the condition of the participants, she would have a
hard time proving criminal wrongdoing, and no criminal sexual
assault charges were ever filed. (Three players pleaded guilty to
misdemeanor charges of serving alcohol to minors.)

What went on that night might have faded into the annals of
he-said, she-said if Simpson hadn't filed a federal lawsuit
against the university a year later. In the suit Simpson (who
through her spokesperson declined to talk to SI) reiterates her
rape allegation and claims that the university violates the Title
IX gender-bias law by fostering an environment in which sex and
alcohol are used to entice prized high school football players to
sign with the Buffaloes. Since December of last year, two other
attendees from the 2001 party, Monique Gillaspie and a woman who
does not wish her name to be made public, have also filed suits
against the university and have alleged that they too were raped
by players during or after the party.

The result has been a firestorm. In a deposition released in
January, Keenan echoed Simpson's assertion that the football
program uses alcohol and sex as recruiting tools to attract
players. At the same time, police reports and other
depositions--including testimony from players, female students,
coaches, university administrators and legal authorities--became
public, casting Colorado football as a program out of control and
shedding new light on the often tawdry practices of college
football recruiting. Buffaloes coach Gary Barnett has likened the
barrage of criticism he and his program have endured to getting
"between the pipes and taking slap shots for 16 hours." The
latest allegations against the program came last week from the
only woman ever to play football for Colorado, former placekicker
Katie Hnida, who told SI's Rick Reilly that she was sexually
harassed and molested by teammates during her freshman season in
1999 and was raped by one teammate the following summer (page

Simpson's and Keenan's claims have shone the spotlight on a
relatively unmonitored and unpublicized aspect of recruiting: the
official visit, a 48-hour span that is intended to give high
school players a feel for a university and provide coaches an
opportunity to sell their program. Every recruit is matched to a
host, a current player selected by the football staff, often
based on his having something in common with the recruit--being
from the same hometown or playing the same position, for example.
A host's chief duties begin after the recruits have had their
campus tours, meetings and coaches' dinners, when he is handed an
NCAA-approved $30 to spend on what the NCAA manual calls
"entertainment" for himself and the high schooler. "The only
guidelines you're really given are, Show them a good time, but
don't do anything to embarrass yourself or the university," says
former Buffaloes tailback Cortlen Johnson, who graduated in 2001.

How hosts and recruits spend their time together depends on a
variety of factors: what the recruit wants and expects, how
accommodating the host is and what the environment at the school
is. "You'd be surprised how often you just sit around with the
guy playing video games," says Rashidi Barnes, a safety at
Colorado from 1996 to '99.

There are the usual college diversions: frat parties, dorm
parties, off-campus parties, bar-hopping--all of which can put
recruits in the company of young women eager to meet athletes. At
Colorado, which was recently named the No. 1 party school in the
country by The Princeton Review, alcohol is both widely available
and consumed in large quantities. Sometimes other entertainment
is available to recruits. On Feb. 7, Colorado junior linebacker
Chris Hollis was suspended for one game after admitting to
Barnett that he had taken a recruit to a Boulder strip club. A
few days later, the Rocky Mountain News reported that Steve
Lower, the owner of Hardbodies Entertainment in Denver, had been
sending strippers to recruiting parties at Colorado and a number
of other schools for the past 20 years. "Never once has a coach
called us [to arrange for a stripper]," Lower told SI. "It's
always players or friends of players. Sometimes they'll flat-out
tell you, 'It's a recruiting party; please send your best girls.'
Sometimes they try and tell you it's a birthday, but the girls
will come back and tell you what it is."

Hiring strippers has evidently been a common recruiting practice
at a number of schools, including the football nonpower
Northwestern, where Barnett coached from 1992 through '98. Chris
Leeder, a lineman who played for the Wildcats from 1994 through
'97, says recruits were taken to strip clubs or to parties where
strippers performed. "Selling sex to recruits is not something
they invented at Colorado," he says. "Every school does it."
Asked if he would be surprised to hear that Northwestern recruits
were taken to strip clubs, Barnett said, "No. Everywhere is
pretty much the same. We work in this environment and in this
culture. It is a college. We are in a college culture, and that
doesn't change, [no matter] what state you are in or what school
you are in."

Harder to place in the spectrum of Colorado's embarrassments was
the disclosure by the university that a phone-record audit had
traced calls made between June 2002 and July '03 from an athletic
department cellphone to a Boulder escort service called Best
Variety. At the time of the calls, the phone was assigned to
football recruiting coordinator Nathan Maxcey, who left Colorado
last summer and now lives in Utah. Maxcey acknowledged making the
calls but said that the $250-an-hour escort service was for his
personal use and not for anyone else at the university. However,
a lawyer for Pasha Cowan, a former manager of Best Variety, told
the Boulder Daily Camera that Maxcey had set up the service for
others--specifically, "some young and very athletic men."

BEFORE MARY KEENAN was elected Boulder County district attorney
in November 2000, she built a reputation as a deputy DA by
successfully prosecuting sexual assault cases. "She established
the principle that no means no and date rape is not O.K., even if
you are drunk and half-naked," says Boulder attorney George
Johnson. As she said in her deposition in the Simpson case,
Keenan (who declined to talk to SI) didn't foresee charges being
upheld in the 2001 incident partly because she felt the recruits
"had been built up to believe that the situation they were going
into was specifically to provide them with sex."

That, she believed, was further evidence of the toxic culture she
felt had contributed to a similar incident involving Colorado
football recruits in December 1997. In that case a Niwot, Colo.,
high school student claimed she was raped by two recruits at a
party organized by Terrell Cade, then a Buffaloes defensive end.
Keenan didn't press charges because of insufficient evidence, but
as she said in the deposition, she believed the '97 encounter
"had been set up to provide sex to the recruits as a recruiting

Keenan made a similar statement in a February 1998 meeting with
university chancellor Richard Byyny, athletic director Dick Tharp
and university counsel Bob Chichester, among others. She
suggested the university establish a "zero tolerance" policy
regarding alcohol and sex for recruits. Further, she recalled
telling Tharp directly that he needed "to take measures to
prevent [an incident like the one in '97] because if it happens
again, we are going to deal with it very seriously. You are on

How much of Keenan's message was conveyed to Barnett after his
hiring in 1999 is unclear. Chichester, now the athletic director
at UC Irvine, recalled talking to the new coach about the '97
incident and about Keenan's concerns. Barnett, in his deposition,
said he heard nothing about either subject until after the
December 2001 party, and that even if he had, "I don't think it
would have had any effect on my policies, procedures, and the way
I would have done business.... My expectations and my standards
were different than the ones that were in existence before."

THAT WAS what Colorado fans were counting on when Barnett arrived
in Boulder in January 1999 for what he considered his dream job.
During his seven-year career at Northwestern, he had lifted the
historically hapless Wildcats to respectability and taken them to
the 1995 Rose Bowl. Barnett also had established a reputation as
a detail-oriented disciplinarian, a hard-nosed coach who would
not tolerate the kinds of problems that had marked the tenures of
his two immediate predecessors at Colorado. Although Barnett was
an assistant under Buffaloes coach Bill McCartney from 1984
through '91, he was never linked to the myriad troubles during
that reign, which included at least two dozen players being
arrested from 1986 through '89. McCartney was followed by Rick
Neuheisel, whose program was found to have committed more than 50
NCAA violations during his four seasons in Boulder and who was
seen as a coach whose ability to relate to his players masked his
inability to rein them in. While entertaining high school
recruits in January '99, Neuheisel stunned the Buffaloes faithful
by accepting a seven-year, $7 million contract at Washington. (He
was fired last year by Washington for participating in a
high-stakes NCAA basketball tournament pool and failing to be
forthcoming about it.)

So when Barnett returned to Boulder and spoke of structure and
accountability, even hardened CU skeptics like Keenan were
optimistic. "I felt like I needed to crack down and change the
culture," Barnett told SI last week. "There is no question I ran
into some resistance, but you have to do it your own way."

Barnett brought a player handbook to Colorado, parts of it
borrowed from Tom Osborne's guide at Nebraska. It's a constantly
expanding volume that outlines everything from how a player
should act on the practice field to the team's alcohol policy,
and includes a section entitled "Date Rape/Social Policy," which
advises, among other things, "Never initiate sexual intercourse
if the woman is intoxicated or passed out."

There's no question that in some cases of wrongdoing by team
members Barnett has acted decisively. Two of the four Colorado
players charged for their roles in the 2001 party were suspended,
and three of them lost their scholarships. Earlier this month
Barnett dismissed walk-on quarterback Colt Brennan for violating
team rules. (According to the Daily Camera, Brennan is the
subject of a police investigation involving an alleged sexual
assault in late January at a campus residence hall. SI was unable
to reach him for comment.) On Feb. 7 the coach suspended not only
Hollis but also three other players for unspecified violations
related to recruiting.

After arriving at Colorado, Barnett stopped the large recruiting
parties--attended by coaches and players as well as
recruits--that had been common under Neuheisel. And following the
2001 party, he instituted a 1 a.m. curfew and a hotel check-in
for visiting high school players. "I find it very ironic that the
school with probably the strictest rules and someone whose
reputation has been one who enforces those rules is the one who
is the focus of all this," Barnett says.

Imposing new rules, however, is different from changing an
ingrained culture. According to a police report, when one of the
women who attended the 2001 party confronted players involved the
next day, a player told her, "We're Big 12 champs.... Why would
we need to rape somebody?"

In the face of such a palpable sense of entitlement, Barnett
worried that placing tighter restrictions on recruiting would
hurt Colorado's football program. He says in his deposition, "We
were concerned that some of those changes would create a
recruiting disadvantage ... most notably a curfew." Later,
Barnett says, the school decided "to be proactive," which is when
he put in place the curfew and check-in rules for visiting

There's no evidence to suggest that having a curfew has harmed
Colorado's recruiting. It's not even clear whether Keenan's "zero
tolerance policy" on sex would put a school at a disadvantage.
"To use whether you had sex on campus to choose your school is
shallow and shortsighted," says former Colorado linebacker Chad
Brown, now with the Seattle Seahawks. "I had a four-page
checklist to assess the merits of each school I visited. To base
that decision on three minutes of sex as a 17-year-old is pretty

Others suggest that official visits are just icing on the
recruiting cake anyway. "I don't care how much fun you have on a
visit, guys have their minds made up where they want to go, and
the fun you have on your recruiting trip isn't going to change
that," says Indianapolis Colts running back Edgerrin James, who
played his college ball at Miami. "I could've had the greatest
time ever on my Ohio State trip, and I still wasn't going there."

BARNETT'S COUNTER to the slap shots he and his program have
absorbed the last few weeks is to point to the handbook and raise
the question of how much responsibility a coach has for the
actions of players when they aren't under his watch. "I can't
write down specifically all the things that players are going to
encounter when they go outside the university," Barnett says. "I
have to rely on a basic set of values, and players either
internalize them and learn how to use them or make mistakes and
learn to deal with the consequences of those mistakes.

"None of us could ever say that type of behavior [at the 2001
party] is condoned or accepted. But one question everyone needs
to answer is, Let's say there is no football here and we don't
have athletes on scholarship. Is it likely the same kind of party
would have occurred on a college campus somewhere in this country
on Dec. 7?"

Some would say no. "The deadly combination at Colorado is the
spoiled, pampered, revered athletes and the coaches and
administration that have a blind desire to win at all costs, with
no self-examination," says Regina Cowles, Boulder chapter
president of the National Organization for Women. "That's a
volatile situation. And it keeps coming back to haunt them. This
is an opportunity for the university. Opportunity doesn't always
come in pretty packages."

After fighting hard to keep the Simpson depositions sealed, the
university has been both grudging and ham-handed in embracing its
so-called opportunity. Soon after school president Betsy Hoffman
announced the formation of a panel on Feb. 5 to examine the
football team's recruiting practices and the university's
policies on sexual misconduct and alcohol abuse, cochair Joyce
Lawrence, a former state legislator, compromised the appearance
of impartiality by saying to a local television reporter, "The
question I have for the ladies in this is, Why are they going to
parties like this and drinking or taking drugs and putting
themselves in a very threatening position like this?" Critics see
a blame-the-victim mentality in that comment, but despite calls
for Lawrence's removal, she has refused to give up her seat, and
Hoffman has not asked for it.

University regent Jim Martin has been outspoken in calling for
the school to deal with the scandal openly and objectively. "It's
an emotionally charged issue," Martin says. "I told Gary Barnett
recently that I thought he was a man of integrity. He's facing a
serious problem for the program and for the whole university. But
you can't deny it, and you can't ignore it."

Though it's too early to know how the lawsuits and investigations
will turn out--Keenan has said she'll reopen the criminal probe
into the 2001 case in light of the recently released
depositions--clearly the university's reputation is bruised. In a
Feb. 8 opinion piece in the Daily Camera, physics professor Carl
Wieman, a Nobel laureate on the faculty, described the university
as "an academic appendage to the football program." Says Tharp,
"I know that no matter what the resolution of this, it won't
matter. The stain on the institution and the athletic department
will stay out there. I know that 10 years from now somebody is
going to say to me, 'Oh, the University of Colorado, isn't that
where they had that sex recruiting thing going on?'"

A bigger question may be, Is Colorado alone? "Even if this case
is thrown out of court, it should serve as a wake-up call," says
Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione. "We tend to focus on
a symptom instead of stepping back and addressing the entire
disease, although I hate to use that word. Instead of focusing on
one issue here or there, we need to step back and look at the
culture that exists on our campuses."

NCAA president Myles Brand is convening a task force to reexamine
rules regarding recruiting visits, a move that will almost
certainly result in several more pages in that already hefty NCAA
manual. As for Colorado, Barnett has now added strippers to his
handbook's list of forbidden entertainment. "We have a 124-page
handbook," he says, "and next year it will be 134 pages."

No doubt other coaches will follow suit, typing up admonitions
and reshaping policy. But as Colorado has shown, policy and
practice can be two very different things.


"The players ... and the recruits just came in ... they DIDN'T
EVEN ASK to have sex with me," Simpson said in her deposition.
"They just thought it was okay."

"If it happens again," Keenan recalled telling Colorado
athletic officials after the '97 incident, "we are going to
deal with it very seriously. YOU ARE ON NOTICE."

"I can't write down all the things players are going to
encounter when they go outside the university," says Barnett.
"I have to rely on a BASIC SET OF VALUES."