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March 17, 2009

Wetherell fires back at the NCAA


Florida State University president T.K. Wetherell said he wasn't appealing the NCAA's ruling on vacating wins just to save his football coach's legacy. He also feels the process that produced that punishment needs fixing.

FSU will file its formal motion to appeal by the end of the week, hoping to eliminate the penalty in its academic fraud case that would force the athletic program to vacate numerous wins over 10 sports.

Florida State has hired attorney Bill Williams with the Tallahassee law firm of Gray|Robinson, a former administrative law judge, to handle the appeal. Wetherell also has written a letter to NCAA president Myles Brand, asking him to establish a blue ribbon committee of university and college presidents, athletic directors, coaches, faculty representatives, staff and student athletes, as well as NCAA attorneys, to consider in a public forum the policy of vacating wins.

"I believe the NCAA leadership will understand the importance of having a policy discussion on the whole issue of vacation of games at the highest level," he said, "when it's being discussed in the appropriate format of a committee or open forums, as opposed to a punitive action with one institution."

The NCAA punished FSU with scholarship reductions, public reprimand, a four-year probation and the vacating of wins after 61 student-athletes across 10 university sports were found to have received improper help in an online music course. No coaches were implicated in the investigation and academics and athletics are kept separate from each other at FSU. Wetherell said the university accepts all the penalties except for vacating wins.

"We take issue with the idea this should reflect on 525 student-athletes who did nothing wrong and 52 coaches who had no involvement at all," Wetherell said. "Penalize the institution. Don't penalize the kids. Don't penalize athletics for something they didn't do."

Florida State disagrees with the NCAA about when a student-athlete becomes ineligible. The NCAA's position is that an athlete becomes ineligible as soon as he or she commits the infraction. Florida State feels that, after it partnered with the NCAA in investigating the matter, it felt it knew where the university and student-athletes stood in terms of eligibility. By holding out any student involved in academic fraud when it found out, the university feels it never played an ineligible student-athlete.

Wetherell said being forced to vacate wins may act as a deterrent forfuture schools in FSU's situation to cooperate, especially after FSU provided what Wetherell called "probably the most complete report that any institution of higher education has ever filed in one of these
proceedings.

"I guess it begs one simple question: If you could do all that in conjunction with the NCAA, and still wind up with this type of a resolution, what incentive is there in the future to cooperate?"

Wetherell asked. "Why wouldn't you just litigate? We believe that wins ought to be established by what happens on the field of play, not in the courtroom by lawyers. We believe championships ought to be determined on the field of play. That's our appeal."

If FSU's penalties stand, they could wipe away several wins from football coach Bobby Bowden's career record. Bowden currently sits one win behind Penn State's Joe Paterno for the all-time lead in major college wins. It also could jeopardize FSU's 2007 NCAA men's outdoor track and field title.

"This isn't just for Bobby Bowden's wins," Wetherell said. "You need to understand that. It's about a bigger issue."

An NCAA spokesperson said the association has not yet received the letter and cannot comment until it does.

Wetherell said going to court is an option if FSU's appeal is denied - "You've always got the courts," he said - but he was confident the strength of the university's appeal would make the NCAA change its mind. Still, the university is ready to fight that penalty.

"Truth and justice have no cost," he said.


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