T.K. Wetherell and other FSU representatives are in Indianapolis today trying to persuade the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee (I.A.C.) to overturn the penalty to vacate wins in football and nine other sports in the never ending academic misconduct scandal.
As we all know by now, in a questionable move rumored to embarrass and oust then Athletic Director Dave Hart, FSU decided to self report academic misconduct to the NCAA Committee on Infractions (C.O.I.), which in turn found that 61 athletes received improper help on exams in an online music course.
Despite agreeing to all of FSU's self imposed sanctions and penalties, the C.O.I. decided that the 30% of a season suspension for the athletes involved was not sufficient, and that those athletes were ineligible from the moment they cheated. To resolve this issue, the C.O.I. decided to impose an additional penalty vacating the wins of the games in which these "ineligible athletes" participated.
This was unacceptable to Wetherell, because that could cost good friend and Coach Bobby Bowden, who is presently No. 2 and falling further behind Penn State's Joe Paterno with every loss, in the all-time victories race, an estimated four victories from 2006, and an estimated seven victories from 2007. This would all but eliminate any chance of Bowden ever overtaking Paterno for the all-time wins record.
In addition, what many seem to forget is that also at stake is the 2007 men's outdoor track and field national championship.
At the heart of FSU's (i.e. Wetherell's) argument, is that FSU and NCAA officials worked together and reached a deal that resolved any question of eligibility of the athletes involved in the academic misconduct. That deal was centered around FSU's high level of cooperation with the NCAA (or as Wetherell has referred to, "a partnership") and the COI did not consider this mitigating factor when it assessed penalties.
In a recent interview, Wetherell is quoted as arguing,
"We figured we'd argue about (losing) scholarships. We figured we'd argue about the time of the probation. And that was fair game. And that's where everybody was supposed to go. Nobody ever laid out any of that other stuff (vacating wins).
"It's real simple. The thing's not that confusing. We would never have asked the kids to give up their rights, the same rights that other students who took that class had, if we knew (the Committee on Infractions) would go in that direction."
"What you're telling a university (is that) when somebody commits a violation, whatever that violation is, they're guilty at that point," Wetherell said. "You may not find out about it until after the season, when grades come out or somebody tells or the court does something. …
"You can't put that toothpaste back in the tube. You do what we did. You try to fix it and move on."
Further complicating the issue, Brenda Monk, the former FSU learning specialist who was one of three employees in the Athletics Academic Support Services office implicated in the scandal, is appealing the findings and the sanctions against her, and her hearing is set for Monday morning. In addition, Monk is also suing FSU for defamation and demanding $600,000 in damages.
Brant Hargrove, Monk's attorney, has the right to attend FSU's hearing today with the IAC and will be in attendance, but will not be allowed to participate. Regarding Monk's appeal set for Monday, Hargrove is quoted as saying,
"What I hope to accomplish is demonstrate what I've said in writing, that the evidence does not support the finding of academic fraud."
Here is where things begin to get sticky regarding Bowden's desire to return next year. Today's hearing before the 5 member IAC (remember they are a totally different group than the original C.O.I., who added the vacating of wins penalty) typically take more than a month to decide a case, and with the holidays approaching, that might put FSU's wait for the decision well into 2010.
Regardless of what happens whenever the IAC reaches a decision, whether it be today, tomorrow, or next year, this issue could very well still be far from over.
A) If FSU should win and gets the vacating of wins decision reversed, the IAC could remand back to the COI, which have been quoted as saying the scholarship reductions would have been "more stringent" were it not for the vacating-of-wins penalty. Additional scholarship losses could very well be devastating to our football program. If FSU were to lose more scholarships, this would probably force FSU to appeal again.
2) If FSU should lose, there could be lawsuits. Wetherell has rattled off potential issues, including that athletes gave up their due-process rights by agreeing to a deal that was portrayed to them as a one-shot solution.
This whole fiasco has now turned into a never ending saga and a vicious circle.