Wetherell: Don't blame Bowden

FSU president cites lack of oversight of a "rogue tutor" among reasons for scandal.

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 22, 2007

TALLAHASSEE -- Bobby Bowden and other Florida State coaches are not to blame for an embarrassing academic misconduct scandal involving dozens of student-athletes at Florida State, university president T.K. Wetherell said Friday.

"It is important to understand that the violations focused on a poorly structured online course, lack of attention to detail by a faculty member and insufficient oversight by the athletic department of one rogue tutor -- all coming together to result in a contaminated course," he said in a statement, a preview of the university's explanation to the NCAA and its defense to avoid major sanctions.

Bowden said earlier this week that as many as 25 of his football players, for various reasons, will not make the trip to Nashville for the Dec.31 Music City Bowl against Kentucky; most, however, are due to the academic misconduct case that the school has been investigating since March.

Reportedly, at least 50 student-athletes face suspensions for using answers given to them from the tutor for online tests in a Music and Western Culture course.

"No coaches were involved and the student-athletes, who came from a number of sports, did not enroll in the course with the intent to do anything wrong," Wetherell said. "However, a university-employed tutor provided inappropriate help on exams, without the request of the student-athletes in many cases. But in the final analysis, these students made the decision to use the answers provided for an online exam and they are suffering the consequences."

Those who have admitted to the misconduct and have remaining eligibility beyond this year will have to sit out 30 percent of their competitive seasons. For football, that will be four games the NCAA rounds up to an even number, beginning with the bowl.

The school is expected to release its list today of players who will travel to the bowl game.

The unnamed tutor, a graduate student, resigned his part-time position in the Office of Athletic Academic Support Services. A learning specialist in that office linked to inappropriately assisting student-athletes also resigned.

Wetherell stressed the school is committed to do everything it can to prevent something like this from happening again, mentioning measures such as modifying the structure of the course, for which the professor hadn't changed his tests in years, as well as making sure all online tests are proctored by someone with no connection to the athletic department.

Meanwhile, throughout the week, Bowden, 78, has been criticized for the conduct of essentially a quarter of his team.

"I've been through this before. It's not my first rodeo," he said, referencing a scandal in 1980 involving a group of players taking televisions from a Maas Brothers department store and one in 1994 when agents treated players to shoes and apparel from a Foot Locker. "It ain't time to cut and run. ... I ain't never run from a fight, and I ain't running from this one, I guarantee you."

As for the criticism Bowden has received this time, Wetherell, who is on vacation in Montana, e-mailed a response to the Times (which on Friday editorialized that it was time for Bowden to retire):

"Your editorial is way off base. Coaches at all major universities rely on the staff in the athletic academic support department. They are responsible for keeping coaches up to date on player progress. Criticize Bowden if you want for plays called, coaches hired, players recruited, etc., but the athletic department let all of the coaches down in this case."

Times correspondent Jamey Givens contributed to this report. Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.