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Florida State Seminoles to point to Oklahoma Sooners in NCAA appeal

If the Florida State Seminoles are to avoid vacating wins in football and nine other sports as a result of an academic misconduct scandal, then it might need to ride a recent win by Oklahoma.

Although Tallahassee attorney Bill Williams, who has been retained to help craft Florida State's written appeal that's due Thursday, declined comment, it's expected he will extensively refer to how the Oklahoma Sooners' had that same sanction overturned in February 2008.

At the crux of the NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee's decision in the case, which involved quarterback Rhett Bomar and offensive lineman J.D. Quinn receiving thousands of dollars for work they didn't do at a car dealership, was the school's conduct.

"In this case, the institution's cooperation was a significant factor in the ultimate detection of the violations ... (and) the Committee on Infractions report did not acknowledge or discuss the nature or extent of the institution's cooperation, nor specify what weight, if any, it was given," the appeals committee wrote.

That flew counter to a precedent it established in a 1995 case involving Mississippi where the appeals committee said that a "chief executive officer who requires his or her institution to open itself to the NCAA enforcement process, often in the face of powerful opposition, must be supported by the Association. Failure to accord such cooperation substantial weight in determining and imposing penalties would be a disincentive to the fullest possible institutional cooperation."

As a result of the Committee on Infractions not detailing how it viewed the Oklahoma Sooners' cooperation, vacating wins was deemed to be inappropriate and excessive.

The Oklahoma Sooners' eight wins in the 2005 football season were safe.

But can that argument work for the Florida State Seminoles and, in particular, football coach Bobby Bowden?

While vacating wins would affect 10 sports in which the implicated 61 student-athletes competed during 2006 and 2007, the biggest loser stands to be Bowden. That despite the 2007 NCAA men's outdoor track and field title could be in jeopardy as well as NCAA postseason appearances in numerous other sports.

Bowden ended last season with 382 career wins to trail Penn State's Joe Paterno by one for the all-time lead among Division I-A coaches. But given the sanctions, Bowden would lose all seven wins from the 2007 season and possibly more from the seven-win 2006 season, likely ending the race.

In the FSU case, the Committee on Infractions simply said in its report that the school "met its obligation" under NCAA rules to cooperate.

But FSU officials not only stayed in constant touch with NCAA enforcement staff members throughout the investigation, they involved the NCAA in their lengthy investigation. FSU president T.K. Wetherell called the NCAA a "partner."

Dennis Thomas, vice chair of the Committee on Infractions and the acting chairman for the case, said during a teleconference that FSU actually "did a great job in cooperating with the enforcement staff, accumulating all the information that was required. ... We have to give Florida State University credit for that."

But how much, if any, credit FSU received remains unclear.

Perhaps until the appeals committee weighs in in the coming months. (Interestingly, four of the five members who heard the Oklahoma case remain on the committee, but the chairman, Tampa attorney Chris Griffin has told the Times he would recuse himself from this case because he's an FSU alumnus.)

"There's a balancing act that the NCAA and the institutions are struggling with — the desire to have cooperation and yet not be penalized for that cooperation and, on the other hand, have the penalties being stiff enough so that they will deter conduct that's in violation of the rules," said Birmingham attorney Mike Ermert, who in the mid 1990s successfully defend a University of Alabama official before the appeals committee.

A problem, however, is FSU's case is unique, if for no other reason than for the sheer scope of the scandal.

"That's a difference set of facts from what Georgia Tech and Oklahoma were dealing with," Ermert said. "And I think a concern Florida State has to have is that academic fraud cases are an area that are continually cited by both the committee on infractions and the appeals committee as being one of the type of cases in which a vacation penalty is appropriate."

Florida State Seminoles to point to Oklahoma Sooners in NCAA appeal 04/22/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 23, 2009 10:44am]
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