What about Bobby?
FSU cheating scandal elicits questions about Bowden
Posted: Wednesday December 26, 2007 12:29PM; Updated: Wednesday December 26, 2007 12:29PM
Most years, the college football scene is pretty dead between the end of the regular season and the post-Christmas bowl games -- hence why the Mailbag goes into a three-week hibernation. But my, oh my, did stuff just keep happening this year.
Michigan hired West Virginia's coach -- much to the delight of Dr. Sanjay Gupta. In turn, West Virginia's miffed governor has apparently decided to conduct the school's coaching search himself (so far, to no avail).
Let's see ... what else? Appalachian State made history. So did Tim Tebow. Bobby Petrino "called the Hogs" live on national television. UCLA scoured the country for any potential coach not named Rick Neuheisel. Merchandisers for the PapaJohns.com Bowl found out just how hard it is to spell "Cincinnati."
Oh, and one of the nation's most high-profile programs suspended more than a fourth of its roster for its upcoming bowl game in the wake of an ugly academic scandal. You don't see that every day.
How come it seems that everyone except Bobby Bowden is receiving blame for the Florida State cheating scandal. If the athletic department is at fault, surely so is Bowden. Is he getting a free pass simply because of his status in the coaching ranks?
First of all, for those who might not be up to speed on the story, let's briefly sum up what's alleged to have taken place in Tallahassee. According to reports, a "rogue tutor" (as he or she has been described by school president T.K. Wetherell) gave a large number of athletes test answers for an online music appreciation course. The school had been investigating the alleged fraud (which took place last spring) since September and has suspended nearly two dozen players for the upcoming Music City Bowl.
As Adam points out, Wetherell and other school officials, while pinning blame on the athletic department in general for lack of oversight in the matter (in addition to the tutor, a "learning specialist" was fired) as well as "lack of attention to detail by a faculty member," have gone out of their way to defend Bowden and the coaching staff. Heck, it was less than a month ago that Wetherell -- presumably fully aware of the pending investigation -- gave Bowden a one-year contract extension with the carte-blanche promise that he can remain at the school "for as long as he wants."
Let's think about this for a second. Not only has Florida State's program dramatically eroded on the field over the past seven years, but it is currently embroiled in one of the most blatant academic-fraud scandals in recent memory, one for which it will almost certainly endure significant NCAA sanctions. I don't think it's a stretch to say that almost any other head coach in the country, amidst those pair of circumstances, would be out of a job by now. Bowden, on the other hand, just got a raise.
Bowden gets a pass for two reasons. One, obviously, is that he's a living legend who was responsible for Florida State's program attaining national relevance in the first place. The second, largely unspoken reason, however, is that anyone who follows the Seminoles' program on even a remotely close basis knows that the 78-year-old hasn't truly been FSU's "head coach" in nearly a decade.
At this point, Bowden is merely a public face -- the guy who holds the press conferences, does the halftime interviews, schmoozes with the alumni. The actual day-to-day operations of the program are handled almost entirely by his assistants. He watches practices purely as a spectator. You don't see him donning a headset during games. How would he possibly know his players are even taking a music appreciation class, nevertheless cheating at it?
Administrators like Wetherell -- who, it should be noted, is a former player of Bowden's -- largely gloss over this seemingly harmless detail. Isn't it about time someone at that school stops viewing Bowden's unique "arrangement" less as an excuse and more as the root of a greater problem? It's entirely possible, based on the descriptions of the scandal, that FSU will be hit with the dreaded "lack of institutional control" tag from the NCAA. Well, guess who's ultimately responsible for control of the football program -- the head coach.
I'm not suggesting Florida State should fire the sport's all-time winningest coach. He has not punched a player like Woody Hayes. He did not explicitly condone the cheating, like former Minnesota basketball coach Clem Haskins. And while his team has been mediocre lately, it's not like the bottom has fallen out like it did for Joe Paterno a few years ago. Bowden hired some quality assistant coaches last year, most notably anointed successor Jimbo Fisher, and their impact is likely to pay off in the coming years.
But Bowden should be held responsible for this scandal to some degree -- it happened under his watch, after all. This could be done in one of two ways. One would be punitive. Suspend him, reprimand him, dock him pay, etc. Obviously, that's never going to happen.
The other, more realistic option would be for the school to step up and actually acknowledge Bowden's now-limited capacities and formally restructure the program accordingly. Maybe Fisher should be more than just the "head coach in waiting." If Bowden is the program's unofficial "CEO," make Fisher its unofficial "COO" ("chief operating officer") -- i.e. the clear, day-to-day operational manager of the program. Because right now it's clear that no one's really running the ship, and that can only lead to more chaos, scandal and, ultimately, shame.