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Will sanctions jeopardize immortality?

Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When rules are broken, someone has to pay the price.

In the case of the 61 Florida State athletes who cheated on tests in 2006-07, the one who may pay the heftiest price is legendary coach Bobby Bowden.

Sitting one game behind fellow Hall of Famer Joe Paterno for the most wins in FBS history, Bowden, who by all accounts had nothing to do with the scandal, could lose up to 14 victories, putting him a good distance behind the "Energizer Bunny" in Happy Valley. That gap would likely be too large to close in the twilight of both coaching careers, preventing Bowden from sitting atop the all-time wins list when all is said and done.

The kick in the teeth is the fact that Florida State reported the violations to the NCAA and imposed penalties of its own before the governing body had a chance to rule. The NCAA then added to those with the vacating of victories.

I wonder if the powers that be in Tallahassee would have been as forthcoming if they knew that their legendary coach would be penalized as harshly as he has?

During a coaching career that has spanned 55 years, including the last 33 as the top dog in Tallahassee, Bobby Bowden has amassed 382 victories.
During a coaching career that has spanned 55 years, including the last 33 as the top dog in Tallahassee, Bowden has amassed 382 victories. Yes some of those wins came while he ran the show at Samford (formerly Howard College), but before the Penn State faithful cry foul, those victories have to be counted, as college football made no distinction between divisions back then.

It wasn't until 1978 that the NCAA categorized levels of competition, so big wins over the likes of Tennessee Tech Freshman (1959), Sewanee (1961) and the University of Mexico (1962) count. In all, Bowden has made three stops in his career as a head coach, collecting 31 victories in a four-year stint at Samford, 42 more in his six years at West Virginia (1970-75) and the rest at Florida State.

To set the record straight, it is John Gagliardi (461 wins) and Eddie Robinson (408 wins) that sit atop the all-time wins list regardless of competition level, but for the purposes of this column, we are discussing the race between Bowden and Paterno for the top spot, and the fact that the NCAA itself will at some point have a hand in deciding that outcome.

Of course, the appeals process is on-going, but the NCAA doesn't usually make a 180-degree turn on decisions, especially with the entire college football community watching.

Did Bowden knowingly put players on the field that cheated to remain eligible? It doesn't matter. Even if the answer is no, the rules in place leave no wiggle room.

Still, FSU issued a rebuttal last week to the NCAA's Committee of Infractions ruling and has a leg to stand on, citing precedent, including the NCAA's recent reduction of sanctions on Alabama State.

Alabama State was shown leniency because of its cooperation and "self- corrective" attitude, reducing its probation from five years to three. It certainly seems like FSU has followed a similar path.

In addition, the university contends that it reached an agreement with the NCAA's Enforcement Staff in terms of student cooperation and the NCAA's additional penalties go against the spirit of that agreement.

The next step is for Florida State to get its day in court with the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee.

All this back-and-forth is for a reason.

FSU, which is appealing no other penalties other than the vacation of wins, wants to preserve Bowden's legacy, while the NCAA wants to deter other universities from "coloring outside the lines."

If the NCAA stays the course, it is Bowden who will be punished the most.

Will it prevent him from going down as one of the greatest coaches ever and somehow tarnish his place in college football history?

No, of course not.

Will it all but end the race between he and Paterno for the most all-time wins and take away what could have been a compelling story throughout the 2009 season?

Absolutely.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Haynes

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