Barring a successful appeal, Florida State will have to vacate all seven wins from the 2007 football season in the wake of a massive academic misconduct scandal that has rocked the athletic department.
The vacated wins, a result of a ruling announced Friday by the NCAA, would deal a severe blow to coach Bobby Bowden's attempt to finish his career as major college football's winningest coach. Bowden had 382 victories at the end of last season, trailing Penn State coach Joe Paterno, 82, by one. Bowden, 79, has said he intends to coach next season and then decide if he wants to sign another one-year contract.
FSU has named offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher as head coach in waiting and has a contract under which it must offer him the job by January 2011 or pay him $5 million.
FSU may have to vacate more games, but the exact total is unclear because the school has 90 days after its likely appeal to identify which events ineligible athletes participated in.
The NCAA ruled that FSU committed "major violations" involving 10 sports programs, including men's and women's basketball, baseball and softball. In total, 61 athletes were involved, and the NCAA said the school must vacate any events in which they participated while ineligible. That means the school's 2007 national championship in men's outdoor track and field is in jeopardy, and the school may be stripped of NCAA tournament appearances by the women's basketball team, the softball team, the baseball team, women's track and field, men's golf and men's and women's swimming.
Many football players who have admitted they were involved in the academic misconduct played in all seven of FSU's victories in the fall of 2007. The misconduct centered on an online music class in which athletes were provided quiz answers by a tutor in the fall of 2006 and spring and summer of 2007.
Dennis Thomas, acting chairman of the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions for the FSU case, said it doesn't matter that the school wasn't aware that the athletes had violated rules when they played.
"They are ineligible at the time of that violation until they are reinstated," Thomas said. "If they participated while ineligible, obviously the games they participated in will have to be vacated. The trigger is if those 61 individuals obviously as identified by the institution committed academic fraud. At that point, they rendered themselves ineligible."
Oklahoma was successful in appealing a 2007 NCAA ruling that required it to vacate eight football victories in the 2005 season because of its failure to monitor the employment of players.
If the FSU ruling holds, any public display of tournament appearances, such as banners in an arena or references on stationery, would have to be removed.
"We just don't understand the sanction to vacate all wins in athletics contests in which ineligible student-athletes competed because we did not allow anyone who we knew was ineligible to compete," FSU president T.K. Wetherell said in a statement. "Our position throughout the inquiry was that as soon as we knew of a problem, we didn't play them."
FSU also reported to the NCAA that seven student-athletes who had acknowledged misconduct had competed in NCAA postseason events in spring 2007, although the school indicated it was continuing to review when the fraud occurred and when the athletes competed in the postseason.
"We have utmost confidence in Florida State being able to identify those student-athletes who actually participated while ineligible," said Thomas, whose group heard the case on Oct. 18.
Overall, with the exception of vacating wins, Wetherell said the committee's other sanctions "validated" the penalties FSU self-imposed following an exhaustive investigation that began nearly two years ago, turned up no suggestion of coaches being involved, and was praised by the NCAA.
FSU officials said they would cut scholarships in the 10 sports in proportion to the number of student-athletes involved. For football, that would mean five over two years: two in 2008-09 and three in 2009-10.
The NCAA stiffened the penalty slightly, taking away one more scholarship for 2010-11.
Men's basketball, which the school had said would lose one scholarship (the maximum is 13) in 2008-09, must lose another in either 2009-10 or 2010-11. Women's basketball (15 maximum scholarships) will be limited to 13 scholarships in 2008-09 and again in either 2009-10 or 2010-11. FSU had imposed one lost scholarship.
"Had no vacation penalty been imposed, the scholarship limitations would have been more stringent," the NCAA committee's report said.
The school also will be on four years' probation (through March 5, 2013), an increase of two years from FSU's measure. The school has 15 days in which it can appeal to the five-member NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee. FSU also faces a review from the ACC, and the league could add penalties, although that hasn't been done.
"We had a serious issue occur on this campus," Wetherell said. "We discovered the violation, hired an outside compliance group to undertake a thorough and impartial inquiry, encouraged other student-athletes to come forward and imposed significant penalties — all actions we believe were validated by the NCAA. We will seriously consider our appeal options after having further discussions with the NCAA."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.