ALEX COHEN, host:
Farther north, in Florida's capital, Tallahassee, the talk is all about football at Florida State University. That's not unusual. Today, the Seminoles are in their 26th consecutive bowl game. They're playing Kentucky in the Music City Bowl. But they'll be playing without a third of their players, who've been suspended because of an academic cheating scandal.
James Call of Florida Public Radio reports.
(Soundbite of football practice)
JAMES CALL: At a recent practice in Tallahassee, the Florida State football team runs its drills with a renewed intensity.
(Soundbite of football practice)
CALL: That intensity is needed because one-third of the team isn't here. At least 23 players have been banned because of academic cheating. It's left Coach Bobby Bowden struggling to field a competitive squad. Bowden plans to use walk-on players for the game in Nashville and the situation has forced him to answer questions about his program instead of his opponent.
Rolling with the punches, huh?
Mr. BOBBY BOWDEN (Coach): Well, I know if it's rolling, but it's fighting back. I ain't never run from a fight and I ain't running from this one.
CALL: Bowden is 78 years old and began coaching at FSU when Gerald Ford was president. Bowden has won more games than any other major college coach and is Florida State's most recognizable icon. But some say his coaching legacy has been tarnished after two dozen of his players cheated while taking an online test. Bowden says he's no longer a fan of Internet classes.
Mr. BOWDEN: I get the feeling that the testing procedure that was used is not going to go over too good. I know other universities are doing it, taking tests online, you know?
Mr. BOWDEN: And there might be too many fallacies to it. And this might help bring it to light, I don't know.
Professor JERRY GILMORE (Florida State University): I honestly think it's a reflection of society today. What used to be considered cheating is no longer considered cheating.
CALL: FSU professor Jerry Gilmore(ph) teaches ethics and is an ordained Methodist minister. He also oversaw sports marketing at Mississippi State and Auburn Universities. He says he talks about cheating on the first day of class but his yawning students let him know it's not a taboo it once was.
Prof. GILMORE: I try to emphasize ethics very much in my public relations class. In fact, I call spinning lying. There's no such thing as spinning and giving it a positive viewpoint. That's lying to me. And I stress it that way. And I think we've got to do the same thing with cheating.
CALL: The last football program to face this many cheating suspensions happened at West Point in 1951 when 37 Army cadets were expelled.
In this instance, Florida State says no coaches were involved. An academic advisor and tutor has since been fired.
FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford says despite the adversity, he's spent the past week cheering on teammates who will get their first college post season experience.
Mr. DREW WEATHERFORD (Quarterback): I'm really just trying to do the best job that I can, it's treating this week of practice just like any other week of practice and just trying to encourage everybody that I can. You know, there's a lot of guys here who are put in situations that they're never been in before and I try to encourage them and let them know that they are capable of getting the job done and that we're very capable of winning this game.
CALL: Bowden's team finished the regular season unranked for the second straight year. FSU's president says Bowden can stay at the school for as long as he wants. But just before Christmas, the Saint Petersburg Times ran an editorial calling for the coaching wizard to resign.
For NPR News, I'm James Call in Tallahassee.
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