- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Florida State football team will vacate an undetermined number of wins, serve four years' probation, and face a reduction in scholarships and other penalties due to what the NCAA described Friday as "major violations" from an academic cheating scandal.
Nine other programs were also penalized -- baseball, men's track and field, women's track and field, men's swimming, women's swimming, men's basketball, women's basketball, softball and men's golf -- and face the same sanctions. Overall, the scandal involved 61 athletes.
Football coach Bobby Bowden would have entered the coming season with 382 career victories, trailing Penn State coach Joe Paterno by one win on the all-time list. The sanctions will force him to forfeit all wins during which ineligible students competed in 2006 and 2007.
It is not immediately clear how many wins Florida State will have to vacate. Dennis Thomas, the vice chair of the NCAA Committee on Infractions and acting chair for the FSU case, said only one ineligible player would have had to participate in a game for the entire team record to be vacated. Still, Thomas said the NCAA had no evidence the university knowingly played ineligible athletes.
Florida State is considering appealing the sanction that would force the Seminoles to vacate wins.
"We believe that the NCAA confirmed that our investigative efforts and our self-imposed penalties were appropriate," Florida State president T.K. Wetherell said in a statement Friday. "We already began implementing our self-imposed penalties. And we will begin implementing all but one of the NCAA's additional sanctions.
"We just don't understand the sanction to vacate all wins in athletics contests in which ineligible student-athletes competed because we did not allow anyone who we knew was ineligible to compete. Our position throughout the inquiry was that as soon as we knew of a problem, they didn't play."
In November 2007, Florida State and the NCAA agreed that athletes who had received "improper help" would be suspended for 30 percent of their seasons. According to the Orlando Sentinel, officials interviewed 75 individuals, and 39 admitted receiving improper assistance in an online music course. Roughly two dozen football players were suspended for the Music City Bowl, which FSU lost 35-28 to Kentucky. The Seminoles also suspended about 10 players for the first three games of the 2008 season.
FSU officials and players were under the impression those athletes had already served their punishment, but Thomas said on Friday that the instant a player cheated in class -- regardless of whether school officials knew about it -- he became ineligible, and if that athlete played in a game, it must be vacated. That could cost FSU games from 2006, when the academic fraud began.
"They are ineligible at the time of that violation until they are reinstated," Thomas said. "If they participated while ineligible, obviously the games they participated in will have to be vacated. The trigger is if those 61 individuals obviously as identified by the institution committed academic fraud. At that point, they rendered themselves ineligible."
The football team will be limited to 83 total scholarships in 2008-09; 82 in 2009-10; and 84 in 2010-11; the maximum usually allowed by the NCAA is 85. Florida State self-imposed the loss of the two scholarships for 2008-09, and will self-impose the loss of three scholarships for 2009-10. The NCAA added an additional loss of scholarship from the maximum in 2010-11.
The committee stated this case was "extremely serious" because of the large number of student-athletes involved and the fact that academic fraud is considered by the committee to be among the most egregious of NCAA rules violations.
Florida State's probation extends through March 5, 2013.
"I must say that Florida State did a great job in cooperating with the enforcement staff in accumulating all of the information that was required," Thomas said. "Yes, Florida State did self-report. They did an outstanding job. We have to give Florida State University credit for that."
The NCAA determined that a former learning specialist, academic adviser and tutor gave "improper assistance" to Florida State athletes who were taking online courses. According to the NCAA, the former learning specialist typed portions of papers for at least three athletes and also provided answers to an online psychology course quiz by instructing another athlete to complete the quiz on behalf of the athlete enrolled in the course.
Heather Dinich covers the ACC for ESPN.com.
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