Sex, alcohol and drugs were used to lure football recruits to the University of Colorado in part because of lax oversight by top university officials, according to a report released yesterday.

In its report, the school's Independent Investigative Commission also criticized football coach Gary Barnett and Athletic Director Dick Tharp, alleging Tharp wanted to "maintain a facade of 'plausible deniability' " about recruiting-related parties hosted by football team members.

However, the panel, appointed by the Board of Regents to investigate the recruiting scandal at the university, found no evidence that the school's top officials knowingly condoned the use of sex and alcohol to lure promising football recruits.

University spokeswoman Michele Ames said the university had no immediate comment on the report.

Barnett said the scandal has been hard on his family.

"I'm not sure of the word I'd use to explain how I feel," he said. "I'm not relieved, because I didn't expect them to find anything. I'm not happy because I didn't want to go through this process. Vindication is probably the best word."

The panel said university president Betsy Hoffman must decide whether Barnett, Tharp and Chancellor Richard Byyny are capable of changing the culture and reporting systems at the state's flagship campus. . . .

Virginia Tech tailback Mike Imoh (Robinson) and wide receiver Brenden Hill have joined quarterback Marcus Vick in appealing their convictions on three misdemeanor charges each of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, lawyers representing each player said.

The players were convicted after an eight-hour trial Friday in Christiansburg, Va. Vick was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a fine of $2,250, Imoh to 10 days in jail and a fine of $750 and Hill to 20 days in jail and a fine of $1,500.

If the appeal is granted, a new trial will be held in Montgomery County (Va.) Circuit Court. The maximum penalty for each count is 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. . . .

The offseason makeover of the Virginia basketball coaching staff continued with the resignation of Scott Shepherd, an assistant for the past five seasons. His departure comes a month after that of fellow assistant Rod Jensen and six weeks after Coach Pete Gillen promised a thorough evaluation of the program following three mediocre seasons. Virginia still has top assistant Walt Fuller and director of basketball operations Alexis Sherard.

* HORSE RACING: Smarty Jones's record-breaking 111/2-length victory in the Preakness Stakes had the race's highest television rating since 1990.

NBC's telecast from 5:45 p.m. to 6:50 p.m. on Saturday got a 7.7 national rating with a 19 share, the highest since Summer Squall's win in 1990 garnered a 7.9 with a 23 share. It was up 35 percent from last year's 5.7.

The rating peaked at 8.6 from 6-6:30 p.m., which included the race.

The rating is the percentage of all homes with TVs, whether or not they are in use. Share is the percentage of homes with TVs in use.

* FOOTBALL: Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams refused to discuss whether he violated the NFL's substance-abuse policy a second time by using marijuana.

"No one in the NFL can talk about anything regarding the substance-abuse program," Williams said before the team began a three-day quarterback school at its practice facility in Davie, Fla. "League-wide, it's a confidentiality thing. . . . I'm here to answer questions about football."

Three South Florida newspapers quoted unidentified sources last week saying Williams tested positive for marijuana and faced a fine of at least $650,000 for violating the substance-abuse policy for the second time since joining the Dolphins in 2002.

"We're going to handle it," Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler said. "Ricky's going to handle it through the right channels, through the NFL, and we'll go from there. He's still a big part of this team." . . .

Wide receiver Plaxico Burress was a no-show when the Pittsburgh Steelers resumed their offseason workouts. Burress was fined earlier this month for missing a mandatory minicamp.

-- From News Services and Staff Reports

Soccer players from Marseille (France) warm up during practice at Ullevi Stadium in Goteborg, Sweden, in preparation for today's UEFA Cup final against Valencia (Spain).