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."
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 nation."
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 80).
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.