Following Scandal at Colorado, Mike MacIntyre Is Lucky to Have His Job

1:39 | College Football
College Coaches: The Highest Paid Public Employees
Thursday August 10th, 2017

This month, as college football teams make their return to the field, Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre can count himself fortunate to be among them. If MacIntyre had been, say, an English professor at CU instead of the man credited with lifting the Buffs from 10 straight losing seasons to last year’s 10-win campaign, it’s safe to say he’d be suspended, if not out of a job entirely. His transgression? In December 2016, the consensus national coach of the year failed to report to the proper authorities the allegation that one of his assistant coaches had been beating up his girlfriend. It was a violation not only of MacIntyre’s employment contract, but of several campus policies linked to federal Title IX laws.

According to an independent investigation into the matter, MacIntyre’s failures to report the allegation to the police and to the campus Title IX office weren’t his only missteps. After hearing about the alleged abuse on Dec. 9, 2016, during an emotional, 34-minute phone conversation with the alleged victim, MacIntyre responded by informing his athletic director, Rick George, of the allegation; by blocking the alleged victim’s number from his phone; by sharing the allegation with the alleged abuser, safeties coach Joe Tumpkin; and by giving Tumpkin the phone number for the football program’s go-to defense attorney. “[The alleged victim] told me [Tumpkin] needs to get help—that was her thought,” MacIntyre told investigators. “My whole thing was to get a lawyer.”

Tumpkin’s ex-girlfriend, whom SI.com called Jane in its Feb. 3, 2017, report on the matter, never heard from anyone at CU Athletics again. (Tumpkin was charged in late January with five counts of felony second-degree assault and is expected to appear in court this fall.)

Failing to report an allegation like Jane’s is grounds for suspension or termination, according to MacIntyre’s and George’s contracts. But instead of those penalties, they were ordered to give $100,000 each to local domestic violence organizations, and they received letters of reprimand from CU president Bruce Benson. (Benson, it should be noted, was told of the allegation in December by CU chancellor Phil DiStefano, days after DiStefano heard it from George. Benson also did not report it or inquire as to whether it had been reported.)

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The whole unseemly saga appeared to come to an end in a downtown Denver boardroom on June 12, when the independent report was released and when Benson announced his punitive measures: the matching $100,000 donations from MacIntyre and George, and a ten-day suspension for DiStefano. But to some members of Colorado’s faculty—and to Jane—these punishments didn’t fit the misconduct detailed in the 82-page report produced by independent investigators Gina Maistos Smith and Leslie Gomez of the Philadelphia law firm Cozen O’Connor. Maistos Smith and Gomez, renowned for having unraveled the sexual assault scandal at Baylor, conducted dozens of interviews with principal and peripheral players in the Colorado affair, and dove deeply into all manner of records, producing an instructive, behind-the-scenes look at how some universities handle damage control. Their report, which was commissioned by CU, states, in part:

• “On January 18, 2017, in response to questions by Sports Illustrated, MacIntyre was asked by university counsel how Tumpkin came to be represented by [defense attorney Jon] Banashek. MacIntyre told university counsel he ‘did not know.’” Weeks after SI’s story was published, MacIntyre told the independent investigators that he provided Tumpkin with Banashek’s number. “MacIntyre said he did not know why [university] counsel’s memo reflected something different.”

• Throughout December and January, before Jane’s allegation became public, George, the athletic director, maintained regular phone contact with Banashek (described in the report as “a CU booster whose firm sponsors the annual kickoff luncheon [and] who had represented several CU football players in legal matters”) in order “to see if there was a police report or police investigation going on … Banashek was giving [George] updates as he knew them.”

• MacIntyre, George, and DiStefano claimed that they didn’t take disciplinary action against Tumpkin prior to Jan. 6—when a local newspaper discovered a protective order Jane had filed and asked CU for comment—because there had been no court or police action prior to that date. But “the available information about George’s interactions with Banashek,” the investigators concluded, “undercuts a conclusion that George did not—or could not—have known about the existence of the protection order as early as December 21.”

• A week after Jane informed MacIntyre of Tumpkin’s pattern of physical abuse—which MacIntyre said included “grab[bing] her by her hair and throw[ing] her around”—MacIntyre, George, and DiStefano agreed to make Tumpkin the defensive playcaller in the Buffs’ Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl game versus Oklahoma State. (Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt had left CU days earlier to take the same job at Oregon.)

• In late December, DiStefano and the university’s in-house counsel discussed promoting Tumpkin to full-time defensive coordinator.

• “[O]n January 6, 2017, after the University obtained a copy of the [restraining order], neither MacIntyre nor George shared with anyone on that day that they had been aware of a report of dating/domestic violence since mid-December.”

Brennan Linsley/AP

These actions and inactions, among others described in the independent report, appear deserving of harsher punishments than those handed to CU faculty members accused of smaller Title IX missteps. And it did not go unnoticed that the penalties assessed in this case were handed down by Benson, who also sat on the allegation instead of reporting it. (“I got too many things going on … ” Benson told investigators. “Anytime you have sexual violence, it is a concerning issue to me … I guess I assumed Phil [DiStefano] was handling it.”)

CU Philosophy professor Alastair Norcross told SI: “I am concerned that if a faculty member in the math department had been aware of reports of assault by a university employee and failed to report it, [that faculty member] would be in serious jeopardy of losing his job.” Each faculty member Norcross has discussed the matter with, he added, shared these concerns.

“People have been pushed out of the university,” Norcross continued, “they’ve been persuaded to leave, they’ve been threatened with firing for smaller transgressions than these.”

Other CU educators, who declined to speak on the record with SI for fear of retaliation from university leadership, cited the case of John Stevenson, an English professor who in 2016 was asked to step down from his role as Dean of CU’s Graduate School and assessed a 40% pay cut for sending an email to the department chair about a female faculty member who was seeking promotion. The worst part of Stevenson’s email, which was obtained by SI after the university declined to make it public, stated that the behavior of the faculty member sometimes seemed “immature” and “deranged”—comments far less egregious than failing to report that a woman said she’d been beaten by one of CU’s highest-paid employees. The professor who was held responsible for failing to report Stevenson’s email was asked to step down as department chair. He also lost a five-figure stipend that amounted to a larger portion of his annual income than the one-time, $100,000, tax-deductible donations that MacIntyre and George will have to make. (In January, MacIntyre signed a contract extension worth approximately $15 million.)

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“I bet those two professors would have liked to suggest their own punishments,” said one CU professor, referring to DiStefano’s recommendation to Benson, whom he’d known for 35 years, that Benson sanction him with a ten-day suspension.

In the end, the investigation conducted by Maistos Smith and Gomez didn’t seem to matter. Three days after President Benson assessed his penalties to MacIntyre, George and DiStefano, the Boulder Daily Camera asked Benson whether the university’s Board of Regents had initially agreed with his sanctions. “Benson laughed and said, ‘Oh, God, no,’” the Camera reported. “But in the end, he said, everyone was on the same page.”

“Either way, I didn’t get the feeling there was something nefarious going on,” Benson added. “I know these guys. I know their wives. I know their kids. I don’t ever wish anything bad on them.” Benson tried to walk those comments back the next day, but a sizable portion of Colorado’s faculty wasn’t buying it. Neither was Jane.

“I wish President Benson had befriended my family,” she said.

“I felt like crying,” said Joanne Belknap, Professor of Ethnic Studies at CU. “It shows that our highest administrators aren’t responsible for following university and federal policies ... and going to bowl games is more important than campus integrity and women’s safety.” Belknap and other educators pointed out that DiStefano himself had created the campus office designed to receive and investigate claims like Jane’s.

Former CU philosophy professor David Barnett, who won a $290,000 settlement from the university after it tried to fire him based on unproven allegations of Title IX abuses, told SI: “The chancellor recommends giving himself a 10-day vacation, the president says ‘O.K.,’ and then they puff up their chests about how harshly they're treating themselves. The message is that if you're in power at CU, you can get away with anything.”

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