BOULDER, Colo. -- Nobel laureate Carl Wieman figured he had
put the craziness of college football behind him when he left the
University of Michigan 20 years ago. What he is seeing at the
University of Colorado may be far worse.
For three weeks, professors, students and residents have been
hit with an almost daily barrage of accusations against Colorado's
football program, including rapes, strip-club visits and
alcohol-fueled sex parties for recruits. After a former female
kicker came forward to say she was raped by a teammate, the coach
indelicately described her as a "terrible" player.
Late Wednesday, University President Elizabeth Hoffman placed
football coach Gary Barnett on paid administrative leave over the
comments. "They were extremely inappropriate and insensitive. Rape
is a horrific allegation and it should be taken seriously,"
Wieman, a physics professor, said the furor over the football
program has taken the focus away from more pressing issues, like
the state's vulnerable higher education budget.
"Out of that program, we regularly have issues that embarrass
the university," Wieman said. "That tells you that they occupy
much too much importance. Something's fundamentally wrong."
The university is the liberal heart of this outdoorsy haven on
the flanks of the foothills 30 miles north of Denver. While proud
of its academics, the school has caused embarrassment for Boulder
over the years.
In 2000, raucous off-campus parties turned into student riots.
Princeton Review recently declared Colorado the No. 1 party school,
based on its students' lack of studying and affinity for marijuana
The football program has brought in millions of dollars and the
school won a national title in 1990. But it has a long history of
scandal: In 1962, questions over whether recruits were paid to
attend cost a coach his job. A Sports Illustrated cover story in
the 1980s documented how players were accused of everything from
drunken driving to serial rape. The school was slapped with NCAA
sanctions two years ago for recruiting violations.
The latest scandal appears to be the worst yet and its roots
date at least to 1997, when a 17-year-old high school student
accused a football player of rape after a recruiting party.
No charges were filed, but three women have since sued the
school, saying it fostered an environment that led to their rapes
by football players or recruits at or just after an off-campus
party in 2001.
Boulder County prosecutor Mary Keenan decided against assault
charges but has reopened the investigation and says she believes
the athletics program entices recruits with sex and alcohol -- an
allegation denied by university officials but one that prompted a
demand for action from Gov. Bill Owens.
University officials are looking into recruiting practices and
are hiring a special assistant to oversee athletics, but the
allegations have not stopped. A player admitted taking a recruit to
a strip club, while a former recruiting aide said he used a school
cell phone to call an escort service for his personal use.
On Tuesday, former kicker Katie Hnida, one of the first women to
play college football, said she was raped by a teammate at Colorado
four years ago.
While university officials urged Hnida, 22, to tell her story to
police, Barnett said later Tuesday he knew of no one who could back
up her claim. Asked why she left Colorado after the 1999 season, he
said: "Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. ... There's no
other way to say it."
The scandal continues to unfold. On Wednesday, Boulder police
released a report from a woman who worked at the athletic
department and alleged she was raped by a football player in her
home Sept. 28, 2001.
Barnett and athletic director Dick Tharp were informed of the
allegation, according to the report. The player said the sex was
consensual and the case was closed when the woman declined to
While Boulder has been abuzz with the scandal, but not everyone
is obsessed with football -- or thinks the university deserves
special attention over what's happened.
"I've always been much prouder of the fact CU won the solar
decathlon than that CU had a winning football team," said Mayor
Will Toor, also director of the University of Colorado
Pam Penfold, a 1970 Colorado graduate who is now editor of CU's
Coloradan magazine, said it is unfortunate that an "incident of
college kids involving alcohol" has gotten more attention than the
Players, their parents and alumni say the media have blown the
cases out of proportion and insist no sex parties are arranged for
Still, said former quarterback Bobby Pesavento, football players
are treated differently from other students. "You're kind of put
on a pedestal and people notice who you are," he said.
In an opinion piece for the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper,
Wieman said the university might better be called an "academic
appendage to the football program."
Back at Michigan, Wieman remembers thinking it was ridiculous
that Ann Arbor businesses shut down during Wolverine football
games. The year before he left for Boulder, Colorado lost nearly
every football game.
"So I thought, 'Great! They can't possibly put so much emphasis
on football,' " Wieman said with a laugh. "Little did I know."