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CU’s Price for Playing Division I

By Brian Chase

SPORTS EDITOR

Right now, Gary Barnett is in hell. In the last three weeks, six women have come forward to accuse players on the Colorado University football team, which Barnett coaches, of raping and/or molesting them. One was Katie Hnida, one of the first female Division I football players and a kicker for the Buffalos before 2000. Katie confessed to Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly that she had been groped, grabbed, insulted, abused physically and verbally, and finally raped while she was on the team.

All these allegations come on the heels of accusations that the Colorado program uses sex and wild parties to recruit their players. As of this article, Barnett has been suspended by CU, and would have been fired outright if he was not being sued over these events (CU is required to keep him an employee in order to give him due process). Barnett’s reputation is ruined, he may never coach again. But the absolute capper is that Barnett doesn’t think he deserves any of this.

Barnett has repeatedly denied all these allegations made against his football team. He was supported by several CU recruits who have said that they saw no such “sex parties” while at Colorado. On Larry King Live, Barnett expressed his disbelief in the charges, and also said he felt he would be reinstated.

This brings up a couple of interesting points. First, is Barnett blind? An idiot could see that CU will never bring him back. The administration has appointed a special liason to investigate the charges, and are trying very hard to pin Barnett as the scapegoat so they won’t lose their jobs. Second, and more importantly, is Barnett culpable? As he pointed out, it is nearly impossible to keep track of an entire football team. Barnett enforces a 1 a.m. curfew, one of the earliest in Division I. But Hnida was a member of his own team, and was abused in the middle of practice. How did Barnett respond to her allegations? “She was awful,” he said, referring to her playing skills. He implied that she got no respect because she couldn’t kick well. The truth is, Barnett cared more about the players he recruited than Katie, who he was forced to enlist, so he either didn’t notice, or didn’t care about the abuse she was receiving. For her rape at least, I feel Barnett is partially to blame. Maybe he was too busy trying to win to prevent his players from abusing a teammate.

This whole CU scandal raises a question of Division I sports in general: Can they exist without the sex, drug, and money issues that are thrown before our faces every day? Other colleges and coaches around the country have been accused of similar sex recruitment policies as CU recently, and several coaches have undergone embarrassing scandals (Mike Price, Larry Eustachy, anyone?). To me, the answer is no. At this point, major Division I sports are a form of high stakes, money-making entertainment, which panders to the fans, not the student/athletes who are on the teams. And because these teams play to win and make money, and not to educate and improve the players, they recruit with sex, recruit possible talents that have respect, drug or discipline problems, and smooth over their crimes in order to get them on the field. If college sports were really educating the players, they would have enough discipline and respect to avoid raping the first woman they see. And if coaches really had education first, and not winning, they would pay more attention how their team is behaving on and off the field.

But I guess that is pretty impossible in Division I now. Barnett might agree, if he were completely candid. At least it would remove some of his responsibility.

So where are we to look for actual sports education, if not Division I? Why not in our own backyard? I don’t mean to sound like a kiss-ass, but I have never heard of anything scandalous out of our athletic teams and departments. In fact, everyone I have met while covering sports at MIT has been very respectful. After talking to a couple of high-ranking athletic officials, I can honestly say that they have the student’s interest in mind. And not the student spectators, necessarily, but the students who participate in the sports. That, I feel, is much more important than the fact that MIT doesn’t play many Division I sports. Really, is having a big-name team to root for as important as having competitive sports that are part of their participants education, and not exploitation? I don’t think so.

This is why I am glad MIT doesn’t have Division I sports. Admittedly, this is mostly because MIT is focused on high-end scientific and engineering education, and not earning as much sports money as it can. But shouldn’t every school be that way? I feel convinced that should MIT raise the money and build the faculties to field Division I teams, it would be drawn into this same circle of hypocrisy that envelopes so many other universities in the country. Unfortunately, those universities make hypocrites out of many people, including myself, because while I might be glad MIT isn’t Division I, and while I might rail against the Gary Barnetts of the world, that doesn’t stop me from watching and enjoying the sports Division I players produce.

Hopefully, someday, we can turn major college sports into its own business, divorce it from the universities entirely, and end the circle of sex, drugs, and money that infects the system.