Florida State says penalty is unfair

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State says it's unfair to take wins off the individual records of football coach Bobby Bowden and other coaches and athletes who had no role in an academic cheating scandal.

In an appeal to the NCAA on Wednesday, the university argued that a proposal to strip the school, its coaches and athletes of victories in several sports is too harsh and should be reversed.

If not, the penalty would cost Bowden up to 14 wins. Taking that many victories off his personal record would give Bowden little chance of catching Penn State's Joe Paterno in their race to be major college football's winningest coach. Paterno has 383 wins, just one more than Bowden, who is entering his 34th season at Florida State.

The appeal cites Florida State's cooperation with the NCAA and self-imposed penalties, including the loss of athletic scholarships and the suspensions of those who cheated on an online music history test.

Florida State's backup argument is that even if wins should be stripped from the school's record, the individual records of innocent coaches and athletes should not be docked. Under that scenario, Florida State would still lose its 1997 national championship in track and field and the football team would lose victories,k but Bowden would not.

The 20-page appeal says it serves no valid purpose to rewrite the win-loss records of a coach or a baseball or softball pitcher who did not cheat because of violations committed by others. It also notes that athletes whose accomplishments are measured by other factors such as touchdowns or rushing yards would not be punished.

"The NCAA should protect -- and not penalize -- those who play by the rules," Florida State's legal team, headed by William E. Williams, wrote in the appeal.

The NCCA's Infractions Committee in March added the loss of wins to the penalties Florida State imposed on itself last year. The case next goes to an infractions appeal committee, which is expected to hold a hearing later this year.

The university issued a statement saying there would be no comment on the appeal.

Florida State itself reported the violations to the NCAA, which then found 61 Seminoles athletes had cheated on the test in 2006-07 or received improper help from staffers who provided answers or typed papers for them.

The NCAA's Infractions Committee decided that "vacating," or giving up wins -- technically not forfeits because opponents' records would remain unchanged -- was justified because "what happened in that course was simply a symptom of a much larger disease -- a systemic, 'environmental' problem among a large group of student-athletes and three staff members."

The appeal says there's no evidence to support that conclusion.

"This is mere hyperbole," the lawyers wrote. "It is unquestioned that virtually all of the violations at issue are associated with a single, online music course."

If academic fraud have been pandemic, there would have been violations in other courses, but that didn't happen, the university argues.

The appeal traces the cheating to academic adviser Brenda Monk's zeal in helping student-athletes with learning disabilities and her erroneous belief the music test was an "open-book exam." As soon as she realized her mistake, she reported it, the appeal says.

Florida State also argues the infractions committee broke precedent by failing to explain what weight it gave to the university's cooperation and self-imposed sanctions, citing prior cases involving Alabama State, Howard, Alabama, Kentucky and Oklahoma.

That failure will discourage other schools from cooperating in the future and undermines the legitimacy of the penalties, the appeal states.

"It also compels reversal," the lawyers wrote. "If the committee in fact weighed those factors, it did so in a black box that denies the university and this committee a meaningful opportunity to review the appropriateness of its logic and its decision."

Finally, Florida State argues it never would have entered an agreement with NCAA staffers for the self-imposed penalties if officials had known the school would also lose wins.