Florida State Cheating Allegations Examined

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Florida State University released a transcript Wednesday of the NCAA hearing on the academic fraud case involving 61 athletes across 10 sports. The transcript includes an opening statement from school President T. K. Wetherell who said he didn't believe the students cheated, but that they got inappropriate help. Andrew Carter, a staff writer with the Orlando Sentinel, says FSU, as a public institution, was bound by open-records laws to release the transcripts.


Thanks to a court order, the nearly 700-page transcript of an NCAA hearing on academic fraud at Florida State University has been released. The hearing was all about athletes who'd gotten unfair assistance, including the answers to some test questions and help in both typing and writing their papers. During the hearing, the president of Florida State, T.K. Wetherell, deflected blame from the athletes. He said the student athletes didn't start off with the idea of: this is how I'm going to cheat. We don't really believe they cheated. They got inappropriate help.

Reporter Andrew Carter of the Orlando Sentinel has been covering this story for quite a while. Welcome to the program.

Mr. ANDREW CARTER (Reporter, Orlando Sentinel): Thank you, Robert. I appreciate you having me on today.

SIEGEL: And first, about how many students did all of this involve and how many faculty or staff members?

Mr. CARTER: It involved a total of 61 athletes spread across ten sports and the number of faculty members is three. There was a former learning specialist at Florida State named Brenda Monk. There was an academic tutor named Adam Wright. And there was another individual named Hillard Goldsmith, a former academic adviser at FSU.

SIEGEL: Now, Florida State University had opposed the release of the hearing transcript. Your paper had been seeking a release of the transcript. Why was it so important and what do you learn from it?

Mr. CARTER: Well, basically it was important just because, you know, Florida State, of course, is a public institution here. And we believe that they were bound by state open records laws. Basically, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press and a lot of other media outlets up here felt that FSU is kind of, you know, hiding behind the curtain of the NCAA that doesn't want us to release this more or less. And, you know, it wasn't so much that there were any bombshells contained within these documents, but now that we have them, we have a better understanding of where things are at.

SIEGEL: Now, that quotation I read in which President Wetherell, who earlier this year announced that he would be retiring as soon as a replacement can be found as president of Florida State, he sounded like he was taking one for the team. This wasn't the kid's fault. They've been led on by the faculty members. Does anybody there buy his distinction between cheating and getting inappropriate help?

Mr. CARTER: No, I don't think so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARTER: I think that was a nice try by T.K. He was, you know, he was a former politician in the state, longtime speaker of the House and I think he was trying to use some old political tricks, perhaps, there and bending the truth a bit. I don't think anyone really believes that, you know, anything other than the fact that these kids cheated. You know, they did get inappropriate help, but what do you call that? I think that is the very definition of cheating.

SIEGEL: There's a course that's at issue here, which is an online music history course, I guess it is. And there was some argument about it. It evidently was not a course that was - the university said it wasn't used to help the athletes maintain their eligibility, but seemed to be a course where you could do the tests blind at your computer terminal, opening up the possibilities of fraud or inappropriate help, as the case may be.

Mr. CARTER: Yeah, I think the university's assertion that this isn't some sort of GPA booster, that this isn't some sort of course in which athletes can go in and get an easy grade to maintain eligibility. I think their assertion that that's not the case is, frankly, a bunch of malarkey. I mean, that's exactly what that course is. That's exactly what it was known for. I mean, it wasn't just athletes going in there and getting easy grades because the system was flawed. It was also, you know, members of the general student population.

SIEGEL: Now, as much as one might like to think that this is causing people great concern about Florida State's reputation, it seems as though the biggest concern is, will the great football coach of Florida State, Bobby Bowden, have so many victories taken away from him by all this, that he'll lose ground on Joe Paterno at Penn State?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARTER: That's right. And, you know, Coach Bowden is doing a good enough job of losing ground of Paterno anyway, just given the fact that his team is struggling so much right now. But, yeah, sadly enough, that has taken, you know, front and center of this case, these 14 victories that Bobby Bowden stands to lose.

And people forget that, you know, nine other sports besides football were involved. Football had, I believe, 25 players wrapped up in this, but that means there were also just about almost 40 other athletes from other sports wrapped up in this and you had nine other coaches. But people have made this a Bobby Bowden issue and people have made this a football issue, when in reality it's much broader than that.

SIEGEL: You know, we tried to get people from the university, including the president, to talk about this and they declined. Have they been tightlipped with you at the Sentinel or other reporters in Florida trying to get information from them?

Mr. CARTER: They've been extremely tightlipped, especially within the past year or so. I think there was a time early on in this case - this case broke publicly back in September of 2007 when, I think, university officials were more receptive about talking about it. I, in fact, spoke with President Wetherell for an extended amount of time in January of '08. And I think basically they're in shutdown mode right now. Really, there haven't been many interview availabilities throughout this whole deal.

SIEGEL: Well, Reporter Andrew Carter of the Orlando Sentinel, thanks a lot for taking with us.

Mr. CARTER: Robert, thank you very much.

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