The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions strongly defended imposing a penalty on Florida State of vacating wins in football and nine other sports as a result of an academic misconduct scandal, according to a document the school released Thursday morning.
"In this case, the vacation penalty is not even particularly severe — it is a penalty that flows naturally from the university's use of ineligible student-athletes in competition and it is a penalty often opposed in cases that have far fewer aggravating factors than those that exist here," the committee said of the case, which included 61 Florida State student-athletes.
The 23-page document, which the NCAA allowed to be released only after several Florida media outlets filed a lawsuit for a violation of state public records laws earlier this week, said FSU's attempt to show the penalties were unfair "falls well short" and the Infractions Appeals Committee should uphold the penalty.
It said this case was the "first time in at least a decade," involving "egregious academic fraud," to present all the factors critical to assessing the penalty so the decision to impose it was "an easy, virtually compelled" one.
FSU president T.K. Wetherell denounced the NCAA's response.
"This committee is just wrong," he said. "The rationale for doing that isn't accurate."
Wetherell said the school would exhaust all appeal opportunities with the NCAA "before going anywhere else."
If the five-member appeals committee agrees, FSU could lose the 2007 men's outdoor track and field championship, perhaps an NCAA women's basketball tournament appearance, and most notably, seven wins from the 2007 football season and as many as seven more from the 2006 season.
Iconic coach Bobby Bowden currently has 382 wins, one behind Penn State's Joe Paterno, 82, for the all-time lead in major-college football. Bowden, 79, has said that record matters to him.
"There was no coach involved in this," Wetherell said. "The one group of people that were not involved in this thing were the coaches. They're the one group that's being penalized."
Bowden, who was back in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., for a week of golfing with friends, was mystified by the NCAA's response.
"Joe, who I love to death, he and I got a battle that neither one of us thought would ever happen," Bowden told WBRC-TV in Birmingham. "Joe would not want to win this thing the way they (NCAA) are doing this."
FSU officials have until July 1 to craft a rebuttal, the next step in a lengthy process that culminates with FSU having a hearing in front of the appeals committee. That group usually takes 4-6 weeks to issue a decision. The chairman of the appeals committee, FSU alumnus and Tampa attorney Chris Griffin, has recused himself.
A vigorous response to FSU's appeal couldn't have come as a surprise to school officials, although some of the language might have; language that at times read more like a rebuke than a rebuttal:
• It called the conduct of the staff members of the Athletics Academic Support Services, former learning specialist Brenda Monk, adviser Hillard Goldsmith III and an unnamed tutor, "reprehensible."
Monk also has appealed the findings she committed academic fraud. Her rebuttal to the Committee on Infractions response is due July 1. Like FSU, she too will have a hearing. She also intends to sue the university for defamation.
• To FSU's point that some of the 61 student-athletes (and both the school and the NCAA believe more were involved) considered the help on quizzes they received to be "suspicious" but "permissible," the committee countered by saying that is "disingenuous at best."
• To FSU's point that the vacating penalty generally has been levied only when a coach has been involved (something that wasn't charged in the FSU case), the committee said the school "widely misses the mark" and cited three recent cases to the contrary.
• To FSU's contention that the Committee on Infractions barely mentioned the school's cooperation, a factor the appeals committee cited in overturning the vacating penalty in a case against Oklahoma in 2008, the response said the school read "far too much" into the Sooners' appeal.
The committee also reiterated an ominous point it made in March, that were it not for the vacating of wins, the scholarship reductions would have been more stringent. If Florida State was to win its appeal, the case could be sent back to the Committee on Infractions to modify the scholarship penalty.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.