Somehow Florida State found itself amid one of the biggest academic scandals in recent NCAA history -- not as intense but more widespread than Clem Haskins' Minnesota travesty and Jim Harrick's slime pit at Georgia -- yet the Seminoles avoided being hit with the NCAA's most damaging allegation: a lack of institutional control.
Which is hilarious, considering lack of institutional control is more than a concept at Florida State. It's the most famous person on campus. His name is Bobby Bowden. He's 79, and he's still coaching the football team. Why? Because Florida State, as an institution, lacks the control to get rid of him.
|By staying at FSU too long, Bobby Bowden has diminished his legacy. (Getty Images)|
This scandal happened at Florida State because of many things, including three rogue members of the school's Academic Athletic Support Services, but also because of one man named Bobby Bowden.
Understand, I'm not accusing him of cheating. In fact, I'm sure he didn't cheat. Bowden isn't that kind of guy. Haskins was. Harrick was. Bowden? No way.
But Bowden also is to blame because he was incapable of stopping what happened. Literally, Bowden had no chance to stop it, and not because he's just one man and he has 85 players on scholarship and he can't possibly oversee every little detail of such an enormous football program. Bowden had no chance to stop it because he had no chance to be aware of it. He is a figurehead, college football's Queen of England, who doesn't always seem to know what has happened on the field. So we think he has any idea what his players are doing off it?
No. He has no idea. And that, my friends, is why Bowden -- and Penn State's Joe Paterno, 82 -- must be stopped. Stop coaching. Stop "leading" these young men.
Look at these two programs.
- Florida State just got busted for one of the worst academic scandals we've ever seen, a scandal that involved 10 sports and 61 athletes but one that centered on the football team, which contributed a whopping 25 players -- 29.4 percent of its roster -- to the cheating.
- Penn State has become one of the country's most undisciplined college football programs off the field. According to an ESPN investigation, 46 Penn State players were charged with 163 criminal counts between 2002-08, with more than half of the accused (27) either being convicted, or pleading guilty, to various charges.
How much more evidence do you need?
(And as for you and your "evidence" of my bias as a University of Florida grad, tell me this: Was I a biased Gator when I ripped Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer two months ago? Or when I glowed about FSU safety Myron Rolle? No, I was not. And I am not. So take your "evidence" and shove it.)
They are at fault for the state of their programs, Bowden and Paterno, but their schools are more to blame. At a certain point, men like Bowden and Paterno -- great men -- lose their edge but lack the pride or the humility to realize it. Literally, they don't know what they don't know. Which is why it's up to the schools, Florida State and Penn State, to demonstrate some institutional control and take charge of their football programs.
Paterno can't do it. Look at his program's rap sheet. This stuff wasn't happening, certainly not at the level of 46 players charged in a six-year period, when he was in his 50s.
Bowden can't do it. Look at his program's cheat sheet. This academic scandal is so bad that the NCAA is considering wiping out the Seminoles' 14 victories from 2006-07.
College football is not what it was back when Bowden and Paterno were atop their profession. Thanks to recruiting services and fan interest and the exponential growth of the media, football players come to college with too much hype, fame that has gone to their heads. Their sense of entitlement is staggering. They go to parties and beat up other students because they can, because who are you to tell a famous football player he is acting out of line? They accept in advance the answers to test questions because they're special and because normal rules don't apply when you're special.
College football has changed, and not for the better. The disciplinary pressure on coaches is more than it ever was. Keeping 85 scholarship kids in line is an enormous job, much tougher than it was in the 1980s, and it requires a level of energy and attention that Bowden and Paterno simply cannot give.
Apologists for Bowden and Paterno will accuse me of being an ageist. I prefer realist. The facts are what they are.
The most criminal football program in America, Penn State, is coached by 82-year-old Joe Paterno.
The most academically shameful football program in America, Florida State, is coached by 79-year-old Bobby Bowden.
That is not a coincidence.
Bowden and Paterno are sticking around for the same reason: They're trying to outlast the other guy. Paterno is first in major college football with 383 career victories. Bowden is second at 382.
It will take something ghastly to end their competition. Maybe the NCAA is about to provide that ghastly ending, taking away 14 wins from Bowden to drop him hopelessly behind Paterno. Maybe that's enough to get Bowden to retire, which would then be enough to get Paterno to retire.
I used to think: Shame on both coaches for staying around so long.
Now I think: Shame on both schools for not kicking them the hell out.