Winston case highlights need for clarity in modern Heisman voting

Jameis Winston is going to win the Heisman Trophy in a landslide.

But in no way, Thursday, did the Heisman win.

The Florida State quarterback will not face charges of sexual assault. But, please, don't think of it as some sort of "victory." Winston's character was besmirched as much as the alleged victim in this drawn-out, sensationalized process.

Sit down and read the detail of the 86 pages in the report released by law enforcement officials.

"We did not have enough evidence to move forward," Florida state attorney Willie Meggs said Thursday. "People will draw their own conclusions about whether he is worthy of these national awards."

Barring a monumental upset by Duke on Saturday in the ACC Championship Game, Winston is going to win the biggest of those national awards. Florida State should advance to the BCS championship game.

There will be celebration in some quarters but not closure at 111 Broadway in New York, site of the Heisman offices. This won't be the last time Heisman voters are asked to choose between quality of competition and quality of character.

Before Thursday's announcement the Heisman race had coalesced around Winston and Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch. A CBSSports.com straw poll completed Wednesday -- before Thursday's announcement -- reflected that fact.

Two different players, two different leagues, two different issues.

Dual-threat mid-major stud vs. future first-round NFL Draft pick.

Undefeated in the MAC vs. No. 1 in the country.

All-American guy vs. All-American player -- surrounded by accusations.

It was determined those accusations would not hold up before a jury. Before Thursday, the Heisman race was a morality play. Perhaps it still is to certain voters.

"Unfortunately," Winston attorney Tim Jansen said, "one-night stands happen."

We're not here to damn Winston for what was portrayed by Jansen as consensual sex when no charges were brought. We're here to ask the Heisman Trust for a road map, some direction on such matters.

Thursday, then, becomes a warning flag for the future. An American institution is wildly inconsistent on such matters.

For starters, the Heisman Trust needs to clarify its vague mission statement that mentions the word "integrity" twice. What does that really mean?

Heisman winners Billy Cannon and O.J. Simpson were convicted of felonies. Cannon pleaded guilty to one of the biggest counterfeiting schemes in US history. Simpson continues to serve time on robbery and kidnapping charges. A civil court found him liable for the wrongful deaths of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman in 1997.

Voters and Heisman officials were armed with the knowledge that Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers had been convicted of felony larceny two years before winning the 1972 Heisman (Rodgers was pardoned last month).

None of them had their Heismans taken away like Southern California's Reggie Bush. His wrongdoing seems to pale in comparison. All Bush did was break NCAA rules, take some extra benefits.

The Heisman's unstated message: It's OK to break the laws of man, but God help you if you run afoul of the NCAA Manual.

Then you have the situation with Tyrann Mathieu two years ago. The enigmatic LSU star was invited to New York even though he had been suspended for a game for what was reported to be a positive drug test.

Had he won, Honey Badger would have been the first player to be awarded the Heisman despite missing a game since 1993. In that year, Florida State's Charlie Ward was injured.

Winston will not be charged. But what happens when the next guy is? It's going to happen. It's the world we live in.

Before Thursday, the race had narrowed to the aw-shucks Lynch and the under-suspicion Winston. Johnny Manziel has lost four games. AJ McCarron lost a game. Braxton Miller missed two games. Andre Williams has hurt last week. Of those final three, only Miller still has a regular-season game left.

Any or all may be invited to New York, but it is troubling that the voting process for college football's greatest award has become -- at times -- about something other than football.

Even though the NCAA had cleared him in 2010, there were still (different) lingering questions about Cam Newton. We now know that Manziel narrowly avoided being suspended for the 2012 season before his Heisman run. He did not exactly distinguish the award with some of his offseason hijinks.

And to think we were worried about awarding another Heisman to a freshman?

Charges were not brought. Now we wait to see how Chris Fowler recounts Winston's 2013 season nine days from now at the Nokia Theater.

It can't be a celebration. Not totally.

The story, if it had lingered, may have tarnished the entire BCS national championship game.

Are we all ready to move on now hand-in-hand to Pasadena?

The voting process for an award created 77 years ago, before even black-and-white TV took hold, is clearly too outdated to deal with modern society.

Before Thursday, Heisman voters were being tacitly asked something they were not equipped to answer: Decide in their hearts whether a 19-year old kid accused of assaulting a fellow student deserves the highest honor in his sport.

The Heisman was never meant to be an examination of one's conscience but here we are. In one sense, winning the trophy isn't a right. But fairness must be considered before privilege is bestowed.

At what point is the Heisman ballot going to become a confessional?

There may be voters who feel they're putting their reputations on the line. Writing a mere feature these days subjects the author to ridicule at a future date. Who really knows these guys these days?

For starters, the Heisman needs an image consultant. Forget the makeup and hairdo, it needs someone to walk us through this vagueness. Someone to take control and class up an award that has been stained by allegations, innuendo and indecision.

And in no way am I saying Winston is guilty. His case is that warning flag. The Heisman certainly needs an editor, perhaps an ombudsman. It definitely needs someone to review that mission statement. It needs to be updated, refined.

We need some guidance.

In 1936, the first year of the Heisman, Jack Armstrong was an All-American. He was also fictional.

Reality, these days, bites. There's a big difference between an All-American guy and an All-American player.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
 
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