UPDATE, 9:30 A.M.: Florida State University spokesperson Browning Brooks released the following statement Saturday morning to explain why FSU will use an outside hearing officer to determine whether quarterback Jameis Winston broke the school's code of conduct:
"To ensure an absolutely fair and impartial process, and to avoid any conflict created by the ongoing federal investigation and threatened civil litigation, the University will appoint an independent hearing officer to investigate and make findings regarding this matter. The use of an outside hearing officer is allowed under FSU procedures. Out of fairness to the students involved, we are exercising this option to remove any doubt about the integrity of the eventual outcome."
Florida State will ask an outside hearing officer to decide whether star quarterback Jameis Winston will be disciplined over months-old sexual assault allegations.
FSU informed Winston's adviser and attorneys for his accuser Friday that the school has not made a decision whether to charge the reigning Heisman Trophy winner with violating its code of conduct. Instead, FSU made the rare move to have a neutral party, selected from an outside group of three people, review the high-profile Title IX case, attorneys for Winston and his accuser said Friday night. Both Winston's advisers and his accuser's could reject one person, leaving one person to decide.
"FSU creates new procedures 2 investigate the false allegations," Winston's adviser, David Cornwell, said via Twitter. "Declines to charge Jameis w/a violation of Code of Student Conduct.#1ststep"
Cornwell did not return a request for comment.
John Clune, an attorney for the accuser, confirmed the school's decision via text message.
"There is no sense to it," Clune said. "The school is moving forward with a neutral decision-maker on the matter and is skipping making a charging decision. Mr. Cornwell must have misread the letter he was sent."
FSU's code of conduct policy allows for the vice president or dean of students to designate outside "hearing or appellate officers, when appropriate" and for the school to use "alternative action" when reviewing possible charges.
ESPN.com reported that Winston could face up to four student code of conduct charges, two of which involve sexual conduct.
Friday's news is the latest in a case that dates back almost two years after a former FSU student from Pasco County accused Winston of sexual assault.
The Tallahassee Police Department first looked into allegations of the December 2012 incident, but the investigation stalled. The State Attorney's Office launched its own investigation in November after an inquiry from media outlets. But State Attorney Willie Meggs declined to press charges against Winston, citing a lack of evidence and the woman's spotty memory.
In August, FSU began taking another look at the case by interviewing Winston's accuser. Federal guidelines call for most inquiries into sexual harassment or assault to be resolved in about 60 days.
FSU's investigation is separate from criminal cases and has a lower burden of proof. Instead of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the federal gender equity law, Title IX, requires schools to determine only whether it's more likely than not that a violation occurred. Discipline for code of conduct violations can range from probation to expulsion.
FSU's decision to move the final decision to a neutral party comes as the school is under great scrutiny and a federal investigation. Winston's adviser and the accuser's attorneys have both questioned the school's policies and actions, with Cornwell calling the case an "untenable conflict of interest" for FSU.
The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights began investigating FSU in April to determine how it handled the Winston case and any other complaints of sexual violence. Title IX requires a school to investigate, remedy and resolve any cases of sexual harassment or violence if it "knows or reasonably should know" about an incident. About 70 other universities are under similar investigations.
Friday began with FSU formally releasing a four-page letter to supporters to outline its actions in the case. Late in the evening, the New York Times published a story to its website outlining a pattern of the Tallahassee Police Department giving favorable treatment to FSU football players.
Winston has not missed any playing time because of the allegations. FSU suspended him for last month's Clemson game after it determined he made sexually explicit remarks on campus and wasn't truthful with the school about his comments.
Winston has thrown for 1,288 yards and accounted for 10 touchdowns this season for the Seminoles (5-0). No. 1 FSU plays at Syracuse at noon Saturday before hosting Notre Dame next week in a nationally televised matchup between two potential Top 5 teams.
Contact Matt Baker at email@example.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.
This story was updated to clarify what FSU told attorneys Friday night. The school has not made a decision one way or the other on whether to charge Winston.