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Monday, December 12, 2005
Audit questions Colorado spending, advances, camps

Associated Press

DENVER -- In another unseemly glimpse inside the Colorado football program, state auditors said Monday that former coach Gary Barnett's offseason camp was such a bookkeeping mess they couldn't be sure whether more than $400,000 worth of transactions broke any rules.

The long-awaited audit detailed three years of sloppy accounting within Barnett's camp and cited repeated examples of financial carelessness inside the athletic department.

Missing paperwork, a lack of spending oversight, even a failure to check the criminal backgrounds of staff working with young campers -- all of it points to a need for big changes, the auditors said in a 72-page report.

"The worst audit I've seen in my 11 years in office," state Sen. Ron Tupa of Boulder said near the end of the two-hour hearing.

Indeed, there were many ugly aspects to the audit, but the report and the reactions to it illustrated the large disconnect between the political climate surrounding CU athletics and the realities of running a big-time football program with an annual budget of more than $36 million.

"I don't know that Colorado is any worse than anywhere else, but it's just that it's gotten a lot of visibility," said John DiBiaggio, a former university president who was hired by CU to look into its problems.

University President Hank Brown, who last week announced an overhaul of the school's accounting and purchasing practices, agreed to each of the 15 recommendations for change proposed by the Legislative Audit Committee.

But Brown called the audit "a lot of smoke" without a smoking gun.

"Sadly, we're probably better than most public entities, but clearly still not up to par," said Brown, a former U.S. senator who has an accounting degree and once ran the multimillion-dollar Daniels Fund.

Barnett stepped down under pressure last week after his team lost three straight games by a combined score of 130-22. Athletic director Mike Bohn reiterated that Barnett's departure was based on a combination of factors, but in no way timed with the release of the audit.

Barnett's attorney, John Rodman, did not return messages seeking comment.

Like almost all coaches at big football schools, Barnett ran a football camp, earnings from which helped augment his salary and those of his assistants. But it came under scrutiny -- as did most aspects of Barnett's football program -- in the wake of the recruiting scandal that enveloped the university over the past few years.

The coach, who received a $3 million settlement when he stepped down last week, was not present at the hearing. His name was never mentioned in the report, nor brought up by any of the auditors or university administrators who testified.

But it was his business, High Hopes 95 Inc., that got the most attention.

Auditors said they were unable to determine where $328,000 paid to Barnett's camps came from -- 44 percent of the total income between 2002 and 2004. Nearly $103,000 in expenses from that period lacked sufficient paperwork, the audit said.

CU took over administration of the camp last summer, though the audit revealed that not all the issues had been resolved under the school's purview.

Still searching for a new coach, Bohn said he didn't believe CU's oversight of the football camp, along with the school's new, more stringent accounting practices, will deter anyone from coming to CU. The new accounting practices will make almost every aspect of running the football program more difficult -- from paying for road trips and trips to bowl games to organizing preseason and end-of-season banquets.

"I'm confident we'll find a professional who understands the importance of proper documentation and teamwork," Bohn said.

As part of its response to the audit, CU said it had reported two secondary rules violations to the NCAA. One involved $30,000 Barnett spent from camp funds to buy gift certificates for camp staff. Another involved staffers for Barnett underreporting the amount of money they expected to make from the upcoming year's camps.

NCAA spokesman Kent Barrett said the NCAA wouldn't investigate any of the audit findings unless Colorado reported them as violations.

In another section of the audit, more than $300,000 in athletic department expenses were questioned, dating to 2002. Auditors said they found an "overall lack of controls over spending and cash advances that have led to poorly documented, questionable and unallowable expenses."

The audit committee will keep tabs on CU's progress, though there isn't much legal recourse against the school.

Most of Barnett's problems are related to his company, and he'll have to answer to the IRS for that. The school reported no tax issues as a result of this audit and an IRS official said he couldn't comment.

Kristen Hubbell, spokeswoman for Attorney General John Suthers, said the audit contained little new information. The committee, meanwhile, must wait to see if CU cleans up its act, as promised.

"I'm more than appalled," Rep. Fran Coleman said. "I don't care if they make money. They just have to report it. It's an example of everything that's wrong with the commercialization of college sports."