- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Florida State athletic director Randy Spetman met with the university administration on Wednesday to formulate a plan to appeal the NCAA's ruling that the school must vacate all victories in which 61 ineligible athletes competed in 10 sports.
The university will make its response next Tuesday, according to Spetman, who would not otherwise comment. Florida State has until March 21 to appeal the NCAA's penalties.
If Florida State loses the appeal, it could affect as many as 14 wins for the football team, which would put coach Bobby Bowden's quest to end his career as the all-time winningest coach in serious jeopardy. Bowden, who is entering his 34th season at Florida State, currently has 382 career wins, one shy of Penn State coach Joe Paterno.
In 2007, Florida State officials suspended numerous athletes upon learning about a widespread academic cheating scandal in two online courses. The officials contend they shouldn't be held responsible for contests ineligible athletes played in if they didn't know about it.
Dennis Thomas, vice chair of the NCAA Committee on Infractions and the acting chair of the FSU case, said last week that as soon as an athlete cheats, he or she is considered ineligible regardless of whether or not the school knew about it. The academic fraud began in the fall semester of 2006, and extended through the 2007 spring and summer semesters.
Spetman declined further comment.
Mike Ermert, a Birmingham-based attorney who helped defend an Alabama faculty athletic representative in the first successful NCAA appeal, said Florida State faces a burden of proof that goes beyond saying "this is not fair."
"I think they're going to need to argue there was a lack of due process in how this unfolded, or that there is some misunderstanding or mischaracterizing of the facts by the Committee on Infractions that doesn't justify this particular penalty in this setting," Ermert said.
Ermert said the NCAA could set a dangerous precedent by enforcing the vacation of victories penalty even with no knowledge or indication that Florida State intentionally played ineligible athletes. Ermert said the vacation of wins has become a more prominent penalty in recent years and wondered if it's a response to some criticism the NCAA has faced for meting out punishments that don't have an immediate effect on the programs and instead affect different coaches and athletes who weren't around at the time of the infraction.
"By the time the penalties come down, the student-athletes are gone, the coaches are often gone, sometimes the administrators are gone, so the folks left holding the bag are the student-athletes that come later, the coaches that come later and the fans. I think especially when you consider Coach Bowden's pursuit of this all-time winning record, it's hard not to visit the idea they were trying to hit at something that was very close to the heart of the FSU athletic program and the people who are there."
Ermert said there is no way to guess whether or not Florida State officials might be successful in their appeal, but that there has been "a limited amount of success for institutions seeking a reduction of penalties."
Heather Dinich is a college football blogger for ESPN.com