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Football scandal probe is sought

WASHINGTON -- A House Democrat yesterday requested congressional hearings into allegations of sexual misconduct and recruiting tactics by the University of Colorado football program.

"With every passing day, new allegations and reports bring to light the extent to which the University of Colorado's athletic recruitment program, as well as other college programs, are spiraling dangerously out of control," Representative John Conyers Jr. wrote.

The Michigan legislator, the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, asked Chairman James F. Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, to hold an oversight hearing in conjunction with the committee's reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

"The concept of women as a reward for male athletes is a rampant attitude throughout both college and pro football," Conyers wrote. "This committee should take the opportunity amidst all this scandal to examine whether or not our laws are adequately protecting both the safety and equality of women on campus."

A spokesman for Sensenbrenner, who is in Wisconsin, could not immediately say whether the congressman had seen Conyers's request.

The Colorado scandal erupted about a month ago, when federal lawsuits were filed by three women alleging they were raped by football players or recruits in 2001. The women say the school failed to rein in its athletes and fostered an environment that contributed to the assaults.

In all, seven women have accused football athletes of sexual assault since 1997, though no charges have been filed.

In a deposition released last month, Boulder prosecutor Mary Keenan said she put the school "on notice" in 1998 to stop using women and alcohol to lure recruits, a practice the university denies. Reports have alleged instances where escorts and strippers were used to lure recruits.

Football coach Gary Barnett was suspended with pay after criticizing the athletic ability of former place-kicker Katie Hnida after she said she was raped in 2000. He has said his statements were taken out of context, and insisted the school did everything it could for Hnida.

The school's Board of Regents has formed an investigative panel, and Attorney General Ken Salazar has been named as a special prosecutor to investigate allegations of wrongdoing.

"It's just showboating," said Blair Jones, spokesman for Representative Scott McInnis, Republican of Colorado. Jones said that if Conyers has evidence that the attorney general is not capable of investigating the matter, "Congressman McInnis suggests he come forward with that information. Otherwise, the congressman suggests Representative Conyers quit showboating on this issue."

Peter Steinhauer, chairman of the university's board of regents, said he believes the matter is already "well in hand." An investigative committee appointed by the regents is scheduled to hold its first meeting today and may be granted subpoena power.

"I'm really kind of flabbergasted that they're doing something before this committee has met for the first time," Steinhauer said.

Betsy Hoffman, president of the University of Colorado, issued a statement saying the school is "determined to find the facts" and an independent investigation is underway.

"Our priorities include finding the facts and creating a safe environment for all students -- on and off campus," she said. "Once we have the facts, we are committed to fixing any problems that are determined to exist."

Representative Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, resisted involving Congress at this point, saying through a spokesman that it could impede ongoing investigations.

"Congress may not be the best body to look into these serious allegations," said Udall's spokesman, Lawrence Pacheco.

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