For Florida State president T.K. Wetherell, the school's argument for not having to vacate wins in football and nine other sports for its academic misconduct scandal is "real simple."
He said school and NCAA officials worked in concert to investigate as thoroughly as possible and concluded with a vital deal that FSU believed would solve all eligibility questions of the 61 athletes involved, most of whom received improper help on exams in an online music course.
But the NCAA Committee on Infractions found that the deal — a 30 percent loss of a season for any athlete who admitted wrongdoing — was not global and didn't "fix the ineligibility" issues that had occurred from the moment an athlete cheated.
That led to a punishment that could cost football coach Bobby Bowden, No. 2 behind Penn State's Joe Paterno in all-time victories, all seven wins from 2007 and, based on records analyzed by the St. Petersburg Times, four wins from 2006. Also at stake is the 2007 men's outdoor track and field national championship.
"We figured we'd argue about (losing) scholarships. We figured we'd argue about the time of the probation. And that was fair game," Wetherell told the Times recently. "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."
That's why he and other FSU officials and representatives are in Indianapolis today seeking to persuade the Division I Infractions Appeals Committee to overturn that lone penalty.
To FSU, the deal underscores its high level of cooperation with the NCAA — Wetherell has even called it a partnership — something the Committee on Infractions failed to acknowledge as a possible mitigating factor when it assessed penalties.
The Infractions Appeals Committee has consistently demanded such acknowledgment in cases; absent that, it has deemed the vacating of wins and records to be inappropriate and excessive.
The five-person committee (the chairman, Tampa attorney and FSU alumnus Chris Griffin, long ago recused himself from this case) can typically take more than a month to decide a case. With the holidays approaching, that might put FSU's wait well into 2010.
Another potential complication for a speedy verdict is that 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. Her hearing is Monday morning.
"What I hope to accomplish is demonstrate what I've said in writing, that the evidence does not support the finding of academic fraud," said Brant Hargrove, Monk's attorney. He will attend, albeit not as a participant, FSU's hearing today. (An FSU representative can be at Monk's hearing to listen.)
Monk, who resigned in July 2007, is suing the school for defamation and is seeking at least $600,000 in damages.
Regardless of what happens at this stage, the case may not end.
• If FSU wins, the Infractions Appeals Committee could kick the case back to the Committee on Infractions, which has said the scholarship reductions would have been "more stringent" were it not for the vacating-of-wins penalty. Additional scholarship losses might be crippling for the struggling football program. If FSU were to lose more scholarships, it may be forced to appeal again.
• If FSU loses, there could be lawsuits. Wetherell 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.
"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."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.