The Shame of Bobby Bowden

by John Furgele

The Florida State Seminoles may have to forfeit 14 wins over previous seasons because of an academic scandal that is plaguing the university.  And, their coach, the patriarch, the grandfather, the godfather of FSU football, Bobby Bowden, says the sanctions are “too harsh.” 

Why are they too harsh?  Your program, under your watch, has recruited some unsavory characters, and some of these characters were caught cheating.  Now, we all know that many college athletes, partcularly football and basketball players don’t often follow a rigorous academic program.  For many, the majors are easy and the courses easier, but I’ve never had a problem with that.  If these players are going to make a university millions of dollars, then they should be given a college degree in General Studies for what they do to the university’s revenue stream.  They may not be the best of students, but nobody is better at fundraising than football and basketball players.  For that alone, they should be rewarded.

The requirements for athletes need not be demanding.  Register for courses, attend class when on campus, and participate in those classes.  If they try, then they should be able to graduate with a college degree.  They may not have earned the degree by taking serious classes, but they did their part by selling out arenas and stadiums for four years, and for pumping monies into the coffers.   That degree might get them a job as an assistant manager at Target rather than a sales associate, and because of that, they can be trained by Target, Famous Footwear or whatever other endeavor they choose and make a few more bucks along the way. 

There is one requirement to this plan and it’s called compliance.  Compliance means that the players must go to class, must put forth an effort and must not cheat.  That didn’t happen at Florida State.  The players cheated, and because they can’t be fined, the leader of the program, Bowden must be held accountable.  Bowden could send the right message and accept the punishment like a man, but he wants to catch Penn State’s Joe Paterno for the most victories in Divsion 1-A football, so he will fight it until the wins are maintained. 

There used to be a time when bad programs were put on probation, meaning that they couldn’t go to a bowl game and couldn’t be seen on television.  The last team to be put on probation were the 1993 Auburn Tigers.  They went 11-0, but were barred from being a poll champion and were forbidden from playing in a bowl game.  The coach was Terry Bowden, son of Bobby, who inherited the mess, so he was not to blame.  If oyu find irony in that, good for you. 

SMU cheated so much that they were given the death penalty, meaning they couldn’t have a football team for two years, a penalty so severe that the Mustangs still haven’t recovered from.   The NCAA sent a message, but oddly, they really haven’t sent such a stern message since this or 1993.

Perhaps the NCAA is afraid to administer such severe sanctions because they don’t want another SMU, so instead, they take away wins and bowl wins and NIT titles, and so on and so forth.  Normally, schools accept the takeaways, because we all know that Michigan won the 1997 NIT title and we all know that the football team went 8-4, even though the “official” record is 0-12.  But, there is much more at stake here and that’s Bowden overblown win total.  Bowden wants the record for wins and if he loses 14 wins, it won’t happen. 

Bowden, though, should step up and be the man.  Admit that you lost control of the program in this instance.  Admit that it’s time to move on.  Turn the program to coach-in-waiting Jumbo Fisher and retire gracefully.

It’s the right thing to do, but because of the entitlement society we live in, it probably won’t happen.  Bowden reminds me of the late Senator Bill Roth of Delaware, creator of the Roth IRA.  He had served in the United States Senate for decades and was urged to retire before the 2000 election.  His followers told him he wasn’t going to win, that he should gracefully walk into the sunset.  But, Roth, like Bowden, felt like he had one more act in him and ran anyway and was trounced.  In the end, he still retired respectfully, but it could have ended better. 

Sadly, it won’t end well for Bowden.

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One Response to “The Shame of Bobby Bowden”

  1. mfgleeson Says:

    John,

    I contacted you towards the end of 2008 to see if you had any interest in blogging for http://www.collegefanz.com. I was wondering if you got a chance to read my comment over, and if you have any interest in the offer. Get back to me whenever you can at mgleeson@collegefanz.com.

    Mike

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