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Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Harris is fifth Buff to leave program

Associated Press

BOULDER, Colo. -- Highly regarded Colorado defensive end Marques Harris is transferring, becoming the fifth player in the past month to announce he is leaving the school.

"I asked for my release, and it's been granted," Harris told The Denver Post on Tuesday. He refused to say why he is leaving the embattled football program, saying only it is in his best interest.

A telephone number for Harris could not immediately be located Wednesday.

Of four Colorado athletes who were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor for their roles in a December 2001 party at the heart of three federal lawsuits, Harris was the last one remaining at the university.

Three women who say they were assaulted by football players at or just after the party have sued Colorado in federal court, seeking unspecified damages. Six other women since 1997 have accused football athletes of rape, though state and local prosecutors decided against filing assault charges.

The lawsuits remain a key part of the fallout from a scandal that has already led to sweeping changes in the football program, congressional hearings and an NCAA task force on recruiting practices.

Last year's starting tailback, Brian Calhoun, and starting cornerback Sammy Joseph have already announced they will leave Colorado, as have two backup offensive linemen.

Harris was suspended this spring by interim coach Brian Cabral for an unspecified violation of team rules, which Harris declined to comment upon. He initially said he was suspended because of poor grades.

Coach Gary Barnett, who was reinstated last month after being suspended for comments he made at the height of the scandal, would say only that Harris' suspension was "indefinite."

Harris was the Buffs' most talented returning defensive player. In 2002, he led the team with 14 tackles for loss. He missed most of last season with a broken leg.

Harris, who graduated in four years with a degree in communications, said he will transfer to a Division I-AA school, hoping to play immediately and boost his chances of playing in the NFL.

"There's a lot of schools out there," Harris said. "I haven't even started the process yet."

Meanwhile, Barnett is renegotiating his contract at the request of university officials who want more assurances of accountability. The details were disclosed this week in a June 5 deposition by school President Betsy Hoffman.

"We have discussed a modification in his contract," she said. Hoffman said Colorado is pushing for language spelling out "more specific" criteria for assessing whether Barnett is meeting expectations.

"I feel, in light of recent events of the last two years, that it is necessary that we specify more carefully how we are going to hold him accountable," Hoffman said during the deposition for one of the federal lawsuits.

Barnett's five-year contract will expire July 31, 2007. It includes a $180,350 base salary, $665,000 in annual income from Nike, promotional earnings and a $2 million incentive paid at the completion of the contract.

It was Hoffman who suspended Barnett in February over comments he made about former kicker Katie Hnida and an athletics department employee, two of the nine women alleging rape by football players.

Last month, Hoffman and Boulder campus Chancellor Richard Byyny announced a series of reforms and said both athletic director Dick Tharp and Barnett would keep their jobs.

In her deposition, Hoffman said she and Byyny explained their expectations to Barnett before deciding to let him stay.