-- Members of the governing board of the University of Colorado strongly backed football coach Gary Barnett and university president Elizabeth Hoffman Wednesday despite a new study that held the school's administrators responsible for the use of "sex, alcohol and drugs . . . as football recruiting tools."
As the university's Board of Regents met to review an investigative report on the school's recruiting scandal, board chairman Peter Steinhauer said, "This crisis has proven that we have great leadership . . . including the coaches, the chancellor and our president."
Other members of the board echoed the praise for the head coach and president, even while they called for major changes in the way the Big 12 powerhouse recruits high school football stars.
While endorsing the head coach and other administrators, the regents supported the report's call for major changes in supervision of recruits, sexual assault education for athletes and academic standards required for athletes entering the university. The commission found that only one in four football players met the minimum academic standards required for non-athletes applying to the school.
The support from the regents was good news for Barnett and for the dozens of people who packed the hearing room wearing bright yellow T-shirts bearing slogans supporting the coach. After accusations of sexual abuse committed by members of the school's football program came out last winter -- at least nine women have reported being raped by CU football players or recruits -- Barnett was suspended from his job, with pay.
Hoffman has said she will decide by the end of May whether to reinstate Barnett or fire him. If she follows the guidance given by her governing body, Barnett's $1.6 million-per-year job should be safe.
Members of the special investigating commission that produced the report said they were stunned and disappointed by the board's response to their findings.
"It's pretty clear they don't want to talk about the sexual abuse problem," said commission member Jacqueline St. Joan, a former Denver judge. "It's disappointing that they could read our report and then announce that the leadership is doing a great job."
The commission spent four months interviewing administrators, coaches, football players and women who say have been assaulted by Barnett's players or recruits. The panel concluded that "the university's leadership must be held accountable for systematic failings that jeopardized students' safety and allowed for ongoing misconduct in the football recruiting program."
The panel's report said there was "no clear evidence that university officials knowingly sanctioned" the use of alcohol, drugs, strippers, or parties that included group sex to entertain high school recruits. But it said the coach and administrators "knew or should have known" what was going on and essentially looked the other way.
The report described Barnett as "insulated" and "insensitive." It said Hoffman "failed to exercise sufficient oversight until pressured by the governor and lawmakers."
The sports scandal at Colorado's premier public university has become a political issue in the state, with many voices arguing -- as board member Gail Schwartz said at Wednesday's meeting -- that "we can't continue to tear down this great institution."
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens (R) ran into tough criticism because he said the sex-and-recruiting scandal "has in fact been an embarrassment" for the state.
The regents, who are nominated by the political parties and run for election to the board, have sided throughout the controversy with Barnett and with the parents of CU football players, a vocal constituency backing the coach.
"Gary [Barnett] has done stupid things, but not to the point that he should be fired," said regent Tom Lucero, who announced to cheers that he will seek reelection to the board this year. "If you want a scapegoat for our recruiting problems, look in the mirror," regent Jerry Rutledge agreed.