Florida State president T.K. Wetherell might want to be careful what he wishes for if, as expected, he announces today that the school will appeal having to vacate wins in football and nine other sports as a punishment for an academic misconduct case.
He and Seminole supporters surely want coach Bobby Bowden to have a realistic shot at regaining the lead from Penn State's Joe Paterno as major college football's all-time wins leader. Paterno, 82, has 383 wins, while Bowden, 79, finished last season one behind.
But Bowden would lose all seven wins from the 2007 season and there's a possibility for more from the seven-win 2006 season based on the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions' ruling announced this month in the case that involved 61 student-athletes, 25 of whom were football players, and three former Athletics Academic Support Service employees.
FSU board of trustees chairman Jim Smith, a former attorney general, told the Associated Press on Monday that "it's certainly unfair to Coach Bowden." (FSU and NCAA investigators found no evidence that coaches were involved in the scandal.) Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, an FSU alumnus, said it "would be just, especially for Coach Bowden, for that to be changed." Bowden said he would make his first comment on the ruling after Wetherell's news conference today.
Still, what happens if FSU wins an appeal?
The Committee on Infractions' report said that the scholarship reductions each sport received (six in football over three years, of which five were self-imposed by the school) would have been "more stringent" were it not for the vacating of wins.
If FSU has that sanction overturned, the Committee on Infractions can reassess the penalties, perhaps demanding the loss of more scholarships, which would hurt the future of the teams more than taking an eraser to the record books.
"I've never seen that happen, but this is a very unique case," said ACC associate commissioner Shane Lyons, who has been working with FSU officials on the case. "This is new territory."
"Having the Committee on Infractions say, 'Take your choice of poisons,' seems really unusual," added Paul Griffin, Georgia Tech's senior associate director of athletics and the former longtime USF athletic director.
Georgia Tech appealed penalties a few years ago stemming from a case of student-athlete certification. One of the penalties was vacating football wins, which was overturned. But would Tech have appealed and risked that other penalties could have been stiffened?
Said Griffin: "I don't know what we would have done."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.