More than 20 Florida State football players were caught cheating in school and suspended for the Music City Bowl, but somehow the biggest boobs have turned out to be the FSU coaching staff and administration.
|Once again, coach Bobby Bowden has no idea what went wrong. (Getty Images)|
But when the adults behave as gutlessly and even as recklessly as the adults at Florida State, that's when this fiasco moves from disappointing to disgusting.
FSU has screwed up this scandal -- making an undeniably bad situation unnecessarily worse -- in so many ways that I don't know where to begin. The temptation is to start with Bobby Bowden, who has become the best thing to happen to Florida football since Urban Meyer, but I'll get to Saint Bobby later.
For now, let's start with the official FSU explanation of the suspensions, one that comes from the sports information department but surely was crafted by someone higher up, and with input from FSU attorneys. The long-rumored suspensions became real last week when the school released its travel roster for the Music City Bowl, set for Monday against Kentucky -- and 36 players from the 2007 FSU roster weren't on it.
Florida State's only explanation for the missing players was a statement from spokesman Rob Wilson, a good guy who deserved better than to have been forced to say the following:
"It is very important that the media make clear that those missing the bowl trip are not included because of either injury or for a violation of team policy. We cannot, due to student records laws, provide more specific information with respect to each student-athlete."
In other words, Florida State has players who are hurt, and Florida State has players who cheated. And they're not going to say which are which.
Imagine being the injured FSU players who aren't guilty of cheating. Those players, whoever they are, have been unfairly lumped in with more than 20 cheaters. If I'm one of those players, I'm contacting an attorney about a potential defamation of character lawsuit. Given the haplessness of the FSU attorneys cited above, I'm liking my chances.
FSU justifies its vague position by hiding behind red tape. Federal laws say schools cannot discuss a player's academics or injuries, and I'm guessing a bunch of FSU fans bought that explanation like a set of Ginsu knives. For the rest of us, we understand that teams on a daily basis are allowed to say that a player has been hurt, or that a player has been suspended. Teams don't have to tell us where the player is hurt, or how seriously he is hurt, but teams routinely say which players are healthy enough to play, and which ones aren't. Likewise, college football teams don't just confirm when a player is suspended from a game -- they announce it. They never say what the player did to get suspended, but they confirm his absence for non-health reasons.
Not Florida State. See, Florida State doesn't want us to know which players cheated. Because they're big-name players. Cornerback Patrick Robinson is sixth in the country in interceptions. Linebacker Dekoda Watson is among team leaders in nearly every defensive category, from tackles to sacks to passes defensed. Defensive end Neefy Moffett is an NFL prospect. Xavier Lee started three games at quarterback.
Should Florida State have separated the names of injured players from the cheaters?
No: It's not that big a deal
Yes: It's unfair to the injured players
Total Votes: 646
But that's not all. After the travel roster was released, FSU president T.K. Wetherell blamed the cheating fiasco on "insufficient oversight by the athletic department," a clear shot at the athletic director he already has pushed halfway out the door, Dave Hart. The irony is that Wetherell is a former FSU football player who has been a meddlesome, divisive presence for the program since becoming school president in 2003 (top 10 finishes since: zero). He has his finger in all sorts of pies, but when a scandal pops up, he withdraws that finger and points it at someone else.
No fingers have been pointed at Bowden, of course. And he won't point any at himself, either. After the scandal was announced, Bowden bravely noted, "It's not like I had anything to do with this."
The truth is, Bowden's probably right. He probably didn't have anything to do with this. He's never been a proactively bad guy like the overseers of two other recent academic scandals -- Minnesota's Clem Haskins and Georgia's Jim Harrick.
But Bowden has long been guilty of malfeasance through negligence. He didn't know star cornerback Deion Sanders was skipping an entire semester of classes. He didn't know star receivers Peter Warrick and Laveranues Coles were accepting so much gear that FSU was known for a time as Free Shoes University. He didn't know about this scandal.
Bowden doesn't know anything. The FSU president doesn't know much, but he knows this wasn't his fault. The school knows the media can't accurately determine the scope of the scandal if it hides behind red tape, even if that red tape makes innocent players look guilty.
All I know is this: More than 20 FSU players cheated in school, but they're not the biggest frauds there.