When Gary Barnett was put on paid leave on Feb. 18, a return to his position as football coach at Colorado seemed unlikely. The school was in the midst of a recruiting scandal, an independent panel had been formed by the university to investigate Barnett's program, and the NCAA and Congress were using the turmoil to push for recruiting reform. "I don't think anyone expected me to make it through," Barnett, who has coached at Colorado since 1999, says.
But last week CU president Betsy Hoffman reinstated Barnett, announcing that he and athletic director Dick Tharp would keep their jobs despite nine allegations of sexual assault against Buffaloes players or recruits since 1997. The panel determined that Barnett and Tharp had shown lax oversight of the program but did not "knowingly sanction the use of sex, alcohol and drugs as recruiting tools." That gave Hoffman the out she needed to keep the popular coach. "They dug hard and they dug deep, and if that occurred at most Division I schools, they would have found something to fire the coach over," says quarterback Joel Klatt. "But they didn't find anything. Now we can get back to football."
That may be easier said than done for Barnett. He was unable to recruit while suspended, and he must catch up while abiding by new guidelines introduced by Hoffman that include limiting campus visits to a single night and the elimination of private parties for recruits—stricter rules than are followed by other Big 12 schools. And just because Barnett was cleared by Hoffman doesn't mean he'll be out of the spotlight. Though no criminal charges will be filed as a result of the nine assault allegations, a grand jury is investigating if school funds were used to pay for call girls for recruits, and three federal lawsuits resulting from the 2001 party at the center of the scandal are pending. Groups critical of the program will continue to be vocal. "It is not over," says Regina Cowles, head of the Boulder chapter of NOW. "We will be watching the program closely, and we will keep the students organized. We will also let voters know in November what their Regents did [in keeping Barnett]. Someone needs to be held accountable."