FSU to respond by July 1
The NCAA's Committee on Infractions defended its original penalty and wrote that the "vacation of records penalty should be upheld for Florida State university," according to a letter that was finally made public on Thursday after several media outlets sued the school and the NCAA for a violation of Florida's open records law.
It's not a final verdict, but the committee's stance threatens as many as 14 of coach Bobby Bowden's wins and his chance at finishing his career as college football's winningest coach in Division I-A.
If the penalty is upheld -- and that's a decision that won't be made final until later this summer, or even possibly into the start of the 2009 season -- then it would be nearly impossible for Bowden to compete with Penn State coach Joe Paterno in their race for most victories among major college coaches.
Paterno begins the 2009 season with 383, one more than Bowden has.
Florida State also could be stripped of its 2007 NCAA men's track championship.
Florida State officials weren't surprised by anything in the letter; rather, it was merely the NCAA's Committee on Infractions justifying its original decision.
"We'll keep going through the process," said university president T.K. Wetherell, who on Wednesday announced his intentions to retire as soon as a successor is named. "I found what they wrote rather offensive and factually inaccurate. It's the same old arrogance of ' ... we're right and don't pay any attention to the facts.' That's just the NCAA. We think everybody ought to talk, and eventually we will."
The vacation of wins was the only penalty Florida State is appealing as a result of a widespread cheating scandal involving an online music course. Florida State's outside attorney, Bill Williams, said it's hardly as if the school is giving up hope.
"Oh heavens, no. Far from it," he said. "If that were the case, then there'd be no reason to have an appeal process, if all they did was take you out and hang you. I don't think that's the way they operate."
Bowden, who was back in his Birmingham, Ala., hometown for a week of golfing with childhood buddies, was also mystified by the NCAA's response.
"Joe, who I love to death, he and I got a battle that neither one of us thought would ever happen," Bowden told WBRC-TV in Birmingham after a round of golf Thursday. "Joe would not want to win this thing the way they [NCAA] are doing this."
Florida State has until July 1 to respond to this letter, and the Infractions Appeal Committee still has to hear oral arguments from the school and the Committee on Infractions sometime in late summer or early fall in Indianapolis.
The letter released Thursday is between the Committee on Infractions and the Infractions Appeals Committee. Just because they are both under the NCAA's umbrella does not mean they have to agree with each other, and on occasion in the past, they haven't.
"On several occasions, I might even say many occasions, the Infractions Appeals Committee reverses the Committee on Infractions or changes the result," Williams said.
In the 21-page letter, the committee put the burden on Florida State to prove that the committee abused its discretion in imposing the vacation penalty, and wrote that so far, "it falls well short in this case."
The Committee on Infractions wrote that the vacation penalty "is not even particularly severe," though it will greatly affect Bowden's legacy in regard to wins and losses.
Williams said Florida State has a plan to prove the committee abused its discretion.
"We do it through legal argument based on the facts the committee had before them when they made their decision," he said. "We base that on prior decisions of the Committee on Infractions and the Infractions Appeals Committee.
"There's nothing new in there, nothing we didn't expect," he said. "We have our story, they have theirs. The Infractions Appeals Committee will have to decide which way they're going to go."
Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder said the ongoing written arguments between Florida State and the NCAA haven't been a distraction to the team's goals this summer.
"People aren't really focused on that," he said. "It's not a big deal right now. It's not up to us and we can't do anything about it. We're just focused on our training right now."
Heather Dinich covers college sports for ESPN.com. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.