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 non-power 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 mechanism."
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 notice."
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."