Colorado's football team was placed on two years of probation by the NCAA on Tuesday for recruiting violations, most of which occurred under former coach Rick Neuheisel. The NCAA cut the school's football scholarships and accepted Colorado's self-imposed recruiting limits, including reducing the number of visits by recruits.
Neuheisel, now head coach at Washington, was barred from off-campus recruiting for the Huskies until May 31st. Colorado was not banned from television or bowl appearances, but they must reduce the number of new scholarships it offers from 25 to 20 in either the 2003 - 2004 or 2004 - 2005 academic year.
NCAA institutions are allowed 56 expense-paid campus visits by recruits each academic year, but Colorado voluntarily reduced its number to 51 this year and will be limited to 51 next year. In addition, the number of coaches who can recruit off-campus at any one time must be reduced from seven to six through July 31st. The football program was accused of 53 violations, 51 of them when Neuheisel was Colorado's head coach (1995 - 1998). Many involved improper contacts with recruits. The NCAA's infractions committee ruled that Colorado didn't properly monitor its football staff.
"This was a serious case in which a football coaching staff, led by the former head football coach, in a calculated attempt to gain a recruiting advantage, pushed beyond the permissible bounds of legislation, resulting in a pattern of recruiting violations," the committee's ruling said.
During a hearing in August, Neuheisel told the committee he and his staff had accidental encounters with prospects on high school campuses, but they did not gain any recruiting advantage. However, committee chairman Tom Yeager noted that of the 26 prospective athletes involved, seven eventually enrolled at Colorado.
"There was a recruiting advantage," Yeager said. "And in most instances, these seven athletes were among the top recruits in their respective classes. In the end, the institution benefited."
Other alleged violations included letting recruits keep apparel, improper use of private aircraft, and excessive compensation to recruits ranging from $3.20 to $36.76. Gary Barnett, Neuheisel's successor at Colorado, had told the committee that any penalties should follow Neuheisel. The committee ruled that both Colorado and Neuheisel were at fault, but Yeager said Neuheisel's penalty was meaningful.
"When the head coach of any sport is restricted in the off-campus recruiting process, that is a significant restriction in recruiting," Yeager said.
Colorado Athletic Director Dick Tharp said the university accepts responsibility because it hired Neuheisel and his staff. "I'm upset that Gary has to deal with it, but we will manage our way through it. We will continue to upgrade our compliance efforts, and we will not have to deal with these issues in the future," said Tharp.
Colorado still can have the maximum of 85 players on scholarship. Barnett called the impact of the penalties minimal and said he was relieved it wasn't worse. "If there is any damage, it's more or less a hardship on us as coaches, rather than any damage to the institution or to our program," he said.
Barnett said coaches would write recruits and tell them not to worry. "To our (current) players in our program, there really are no penalties. They won't notice one bit of difference," he said.