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Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Scandal deepens with company's confirmation

Associated Press

DENVER -- Already mired in a scandal that includes allegations of rape, the University of Colorado suffered another blow Tuesday when an adult entertainment company confirmed football players hired strippers for recruiting parties as recently as two weeks ago.

Steve Lower, president of Hardbodies Entertainment Inc. in Denver, said athletes at Colorado and universities around the country have been paying strippers to entertain recruits for years.

"It's a tradition, like throwing a bachelor party," he said. "It's a tradition handed down from player to player to player."

Hardbodies also has offices in Houston and Las Vegas. Lower said students or athletes at the University of Houston, Rice University, University of Northern Colorado, Colorado State University hired his dancers without the knowledge of university officials or coaches.

"Yes, these have been our girls doing it and no, the college has absolutely not paid for it, condoned it or been aware of it," he said.

Officials at most of the schools did not return calls seeking comment.

"If this is true, it is a violation of what we teach them and tell them," Colorado football coach Gary Barnett said. Houston athletic director Dave Maggard said he and football coach Art Briles were not aware of any strip parties.

Earlier this month, St. John's University suspended five basketball players for breaking curfew to go to a strip club. University of Minnesota officials are also investigating whether high school football recruits visited bars and a strip club during a visit in December.

According to National Collegiate Athletic Association rules, a school "may not arrange or permit excessive entertainment," though it is unclear what constitutes excessive. The NCAA has said it is convening a panel this spring to discuss recruiting problems.

The news couldn't have come at a worse time for Colorado, which was plunged into scandal last week with the disclosure of allegations that it uses sex and women to entice recruits.

The claim was made by Boulder County District Attorney Mary Keenan in one of three federal lawsuits filed by women who say they were raped at an off-campus party in December 2001 attended by players and recruits.

University officials have denied the school uses sex parties as a recruiting tool. Last week, Barnett suspended four players, including one for taking a recruit to a strip club.

The Board of Regents has ordered a special commission to investigate and prepare a report by April 30.

News of the strip parties stunned Regents President Peter Steinhauer.

"I don't think this should be part of the recruiting atmosphere," he said. "Something pops up every day."

Last week, police said they were also investigating whether Colorado football players hired prostitutes from an escort service.

Regent Jim Martin, who has been critical of how university administrators have handled the scandal, said investigators should find out where the money to pay for the strippers came from.

"We are talking about taxpayer money," he said. "We are not talking about a professional team that can spend money the way its stockholders want to try to competitive."

Colorado players testified in the depositions that they get $30 from athletic department officials to host recruits. Lower said it costs $250 for two strippers to dance for an hour.

"It is usually paid for by friends of the players," said Lower, who spoke first with the Rocky Mountain News.

Hardbodies dancer Jennifer Nass, 23, said she has stripped at about half a dozen Colorado recruiting parties.

"We just basically go and do a lap dance; the same thing you get at a strip club," she said in a telephone interview. "There is no touching, we don't like explicit language and we would leave if either occurred. No one who is a parental figure or coach has ever attended. And none of the athletes ever broke the rules."

Steinhauer said the regents were putting together a list of 100 people who could serve on the Colorado investigative commission. He said the board will meet Monday to pick the remaining members, who will probably include a victims' advocate.

The panel is being co-chaired by former lawmakers Joyce Lawrence and Peggy Lamm. Lawrence drew criticism last week when she suggested the alleged victims should be asked why they went to the party.

Steinhauer said he still backs Lawrence's role on the panel.

"I think she probably wishes she could take her comments back," he said. "But we want people who ask tough questions. And that is a question we should ask."