Florida State president T.K. Wetherell said Tuesday the school will appeal the NCAA-ordered vacating of wins in the 10 sports involved in an academic misconduct scandal, but not simply to protect the record of his iconic football coach, Bobby Bowden.
"It's about a bigger issue," he said.
If FSU didn't challenge the sanctions leveled by the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions, Bowden would lose all seven wins from the 2007 season and, perhaps, some from the seven-win 2006 season. He finished last season with 382 wins, one behind Penn State's Joe Paterno for the most in major-college history.
Wetherell, who insisted that no one knows how many games would be vacated at this time, said the crux of the appeal will be that this particular penalty is "unwarranted," "excessive" and "flat out isn't right."
He said it affects more than 500 student-athletes who were not among the 61 involved in the case, which centered largely on a single online music course and three former employees of the Athletics Academic Support Services office providing improper help to the players during the fall of 2006 and the spring and summer of 2007.
Just as important, Wetherell said, was that neither the school's nor the NCAA enforcement staff's lengthy investigations indicated that any coach had anything to do with the misconduct, but the coaches, beginning with Bowden, are being held responsible.
"It isn't just the Bobby Bowden wins. You have to understand that," Wetherell said, referring to other sports programs involved. "We believe wins ought to be established based on what happens on the field of play, not in the courtroom by lawyers."
The five-member Infractions Appeals Committee doesn't retry a case. Its decision is "final and shall not be subject to further review by any other authority," NCAA rules say. The chairman of that group is Tampa attorney Chris Griffin, but as an FSU alumnus, he will recuse himself, the Times has learned.
"Our case will be convincing, it will be compelling and those issues will be overturned," Wetherell said.
But if FSU were to win its appeal, the Committee on Infractions could go back and stiffen other imposed penalties that the school has accepted, including scholarship reductions.
The committee wrote in its report that was released publicly on March 6 that the reductions would have been "more stringent" were it not for vacating wins.
"We read that sentence and we understand that," Wetherell said. "But this isn't Monopoly and we're not trading Electric Avenue for Park Place or Boardwalk."
FSU had 15 days to file its notice of appeal and that will be done by the Saturday deadline. After the NCAA acknowledges it has received the notice, FSU has another 30 days to file its report.
It has retained Tallahassee attorney, William E. Williams, who specializes in administrative law and who represented a former FSU player in the Foot Locker scandal in the early 1990s, to help.
Wetherell also will be sending a letter to NCAA president Myles Brand calling for the creation of "select blue-ribbon committee" to address vacating wins as a punishment.
The Committee on Infractions cited several factors for the penalty, including the large number of violations, that the violations were "serious and intentional," and that FSU failed to monitor the class. But Wetherell said those factors are nebulous and need to be defined — by the NCAA membership and not by a committee.
FRESHMAN QB HURT: Heralded freshman quarterback E. J. Manuel, who FSU coaches had hoped might put pressure on Christian Ponder during the spring, is out after the first practice.
Manuel suffered a compound dislocation of his right (passing hand) index finger when he hit a helmet while throwing a pass during an 11-on-11 drill Monday. He had surgery Tuesday.
Shortly before the start of the spring practice, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jimbo Fisher said he was eager to see how his first prized recruit performed.
"His knowledge of what we're doing is very good,'' he said. "I'm very impressed he didn't waste last year. He didn't wait for his turn to play, he was preparing for his turn to play. There's a difference.
"He was studying film, he was doing things. You have conversations sometimes with a redshirt freshman who hasn't played, you're talking to the starter in one aspect and this guy totally differently. E.J. gets it."
Other than Ponder, the lone quarterback is walk-on Corey Eddinger, a rising sophomore from Wakulla who played with linebacker Nigel Bradham in high school.
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347.