In 1924 while playing fullback at Lawrence, Long Island, New York high school, Barbuti set a New York state record, which still stands (2013), scoring eight touchdowns in one game. He attended Syracuse University where he won the IC4A championship in the 400 m sprint in 1928 in a time of 48.8 seconds. The same year he won the AAU Championship in the 400 m dash in a time of 51.4. He played fullback on the Syracuse football teams of 1926, 1927, and 1928 and was the captain of both the football and athletics teams.
His trainer, Peter Poole, very seldom let him run his two preferred distances, the 200 yd and the 400 yd, in the same competition, so Barbuti chose the 400 m and 4×400 m at the 1928 Summer Olympics and won both, setting a world record in the relay at 3:14.2. Next week he set another world record, at 3:13.4 in the 4×440 yd relay in London in a match against Great Britain.
During World War II Barbuti served with the US Air Force and was awarded the Air Medal and the Bronze Star. He retired in the rank of major and became deputy director of the Civil Defense Commission for New York State and director of the New York State Office of Disaster Preparedness. In his spare time he acted as a referee in more than 500 intercollegiate football games.