Last Saturday in Boulder, Colo. was idyllic. Nothing was wrong. Even the Chamber of Commerce couldn't quibble. Here was the University of Colorado, a beautiful campus in a splendid setting, bathed in clear, dry, 80° weather. Sunlight glistened off the Front Range of the Rockies, the changing aspen were at their peak of glory in the high country, and the students were everywhere, doing everything. A collegiate Camelot.
Whoops. Not quite. The Colorado football team dropped its third straight game, losing to Indiana 49-7, but, worse than that, the entire athletic program was running at a deficit that threatens its very existence. The best analysis of this black cloud was offered by Fred Casotti, Colorado's associate athletic director, who has been a member of the staff for 28 years. "I've seen the good times, the bad times and the in-between times," he said. "But nothing like these times."
Nobody has. The Buffaloes' once proud athletic program, with its national-championship-contending football team, is in near ruins, the result of un-monitored, unplanned and uncontrolled spending. Who's to blame? One of the prime suspects is Athletic Director Eddie Crowder, who is being accused of fiscal and administrative incompetence. He has been put on probation by the university president, Arnold Weber, who also docked him a month's vacation as a disciplinary measure, saying, "There wasn't an environment of managerial discipline or accountability in athletics."
The other suspect is the football coach, Chuck Fairbanks, whose personality, or lack thereof, has earned him the nickname "Stone." He is being scored as a non-stop, out-of-control spender. Did he really need a brand-new pair of shoes for each game? Did he really have to spend $50,000 to have his office redone? And how about the remodeling of the Buffaloes' locker-and weight-room facilities at a cost of $624,000 when the estimate was $125,000? Asked by the Rocky Mountain News about his free ways with other people's money, Fairbanks exploded. "I don't even understand this line of questioning." he said. "It chaps my ass."
From January 1979 to June 1980, the athletic department spent hundreds of thousands of dollars more than it took in. The best estimate puts the excess at $667,000 for the last fiscal year. The overall deficit was $819,943 going into the current fiscal year, but that was after the Flatirons Club—a bunch of high-rolling boosters—kicked in $300,000 out of what was supposed to be an endowment fund.
Four months ago, when it was estimated that the athletic-program deficit would exceed $1 million in 1980-81, the university axed seven of its intercollegiate sports. That's the most severe chop by any major school, leaving Colorado with eight varsity teams, the minimum number needed to qualify for Division I.
The Colorado football team is also bankrupt spiritually and physically. Tri-champion of the Big Eight only four seasons ago, it is now a disgrace. Last year. Fairbanks' first, the Buffaloes were 3-8. This season, in their opener against UCLA, they fell behind 56-0 by half-time. They lost 23-20 to LSU a week later and then last Saturday, in their first home game, rolled over for Indiana. In Crowder's subdued private booth his wife, Jean, watched the score mount to 35-0 by halftime and said, "Gee, that's too bad. We haven't played all that badly." Wrong. Colorado had played worse than badly, but Indiana was being a good guest and not running it up.
As a result of such ineptitude, fans are losing interest in droves. As recently as 1972, students bought 14,442 season tickets; this season they have purchased only a few more than 5,500. Plus, they're irked by the implementation of a $10-a-semester fee to help get the athletic program out of hock. The faculty attitude, says Jack Kent Anderson, a member of the Board of Regents, is worse. "If we let the faculty vote," says Anderson, "they'd wipe out football immediately."
Attendance at home games has fallen from a 1976 average of 50,032 to last year's 44,326, and that translates into a loss of revenue for a season of $342,360. Last Saturday, the Indiana game drew only 40,129. In 1979, football took in $1,862,640, $300,000 less than anticipated, and spent $1,910,948.
And, finally, the NCAA is winding up an investigation in which it has made 132 allegations of wrongdoing by Colorado over the last decade. The university has investigated itself and admitted guilt on 50 of the charges, including one in which Colorado concluded a coach was "overly involved in aiding a student-athlete to complete a term paper." The NCAA is expected to announce the penalties, if any, later this fall. Even more damning is the school investigating committee's conclusion that there is "a serious lack of commitment on the part of the university to recruit only potentially academically successful student-athletes."