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A new meaning for the nickname 'Buffs'

Posted: Thursday, February 12, 2004

The widening sex scandal over recruiting practices at Colorado gives new meaning to the nickname of the school's sports teams: Buffs.

That's short for Buffaloes, which, when used as a verb, seems every bit as appropriate. Everybody in the football program from coach Gary Barnett on down claims to have been caught off guard baffled, bewildered, buffaloed by each new report that recruits on campus visits were entertained by strippers and brought to parties where the booze and women appeared theirs for the taking.

''If this is true,'' Barnett said about the latest revelation, ''it is a violation of what we teach them and tell them.''

That's Barnett's story, and he's sticking to it, despite mounting evidence that the players who served as recruiting hosts routinely and flagrantly violated everything he taught or told them. For years.

The latest bit of proof was furnished by Steve Lower, whose Denver-based company, Hardbodies Entertainment Inc., provided the strippers. He said the practice is so common at Colorado and other universities around the country that a certain etiquette has grown up around it: Athletes pass the hat to raise $250 and buy some lap dances for an hour. There's a little drinking, minimal touching and everybody behaves. Oh, and the grown-ups never, ever find out.

''No one who is a parental figure or coach has ever attended,'' said Hardbodies employee Jennifer Nass, who performed at a half-dozen of Colorado's unofficial recruiting functions, the most recent two weeks ago.

''It's a tradition,'' Lower added, ''like throwing a bachelor party.''

Put that way, it almost sounds harmless, like one of those boys-will-be-boys initiation rites. Instead, it's part and parcel of a system that fosters a sense of entitlement in young men with sometimes-dangerous consequences.

Three women have sued the university, saying they were raped at or after a December 2001 off-campus party attended by Colorado football players and recruits. In a supporting deposition, campus police officer Timothy Delaria described another 2001 party at which recruits screened a pornographic video and were told sex was a fringe benefit of playing for the Buffs. Delaria also quoted one recruit as saying, ''They told us, you know, 'This is what you get when you come to Colorado.'''

It's easy to see where a much sought-after kid could get that impression, and not just at Colorado.

A related story making the rounds on the other side of the country Tuesday involved top Miami recruit Willie Williams, who may wind up wearing a prison jumpsuit next fall instead of a Hurricanes uniform. He turned himself in at the Broward County Jail on an arrest warrant charging he violated probation in a 2002 burglary case, and he's being held without bail until a hearing Friday.

Williams was the talk of the college football world on national signing day last week, but not just because he committed to Miami. A month earlier, he agreed to write a diary about his recruiting trips for The Miami Herald. But instead of the usual sanitized version, Williams delivered a blockbuster.

He told of being met at the Miami airport and ushered onto a flight bound for Tallahassee to visit Florida State. ''When I got on the plane, I was like, 'Where's everybody else?' It was me, the flight attendant and the pilot,'' Williams wrote. ''I was bugging out.''

At every stop, he ate like a king. His visit to Auburn included sleeping in ''the biggest bed in the world'' and being greeted by cheerleaders chanting, ''We want you, Willie!'' Not to be outdone, the University of Florida staged an impromptu beauty pageant for him. At Miami, Williams stayed in a suite with a Jacuzzi on the balcony and was driven to see the Orange Bowl with a police escort. That visit not only cinched his decision, it helped him choose a major.

''After going on these trips and living like King Tut,'' Williams wrote, ''I think business is something I want to get into.''

Unfortunately, that may have to wait. Williams didn't tell his hosts that he had an extensive arrest record for burglary, among other things. And it didn't help when he was charged with a felony and several misdemeanors for allegedly setting off fire extinguishers in his Gainesville hotel, grabbing a woman against her will and hitting a man at a bar all in the span of five hours during a visit to Florida. Now he faces up to five years in the state prison on the felony count, and a year in the county jail on each misdemeanor.

Williams' attorney, Paul Lazarus, assured everyone his client ''knows these are very serious matters and they can absolutely affect his college career and affect the rest of his life.'' What Lazarus didn't explain was how.

On every recruiting visit, Williams' every wish became somebody's command. In some places, it was steak and lobster; in others, luxurious accommodations. In still others, it was a parade of stunning young women. The only thing that differentiated his visits from the hundreds made annually by other highly prized recruits is that Williams wrote honestly about his.

It says nothing good about the state of things when the people in charge pretend to be shocked to learn of such goings-on, even less when they pawn off the blame by saying it's impossible to keep an eye on their charges 24/7.

Because if this is the best they can do, all it calls to mind is the old joke a player once told. ''I never understood why they do bed checks,'' he said, ''because the beds are always there.''

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org.



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