NCAA must find another way on Bowden case



Florence, Ala.—Bobby Bowden has been a college football coach for 55 years. In that time his various football programs have never been hauled before the NCAA for cheating. Sure, some of his players have gotten into trouble with the law and that’s not good.  Yes, there have been various violations that every program goes through. That has happened to a lot of coaches. It comes with the territory.

But everybody involved in college football knows there is a difference between breaking the rules and cheating to gain a competitive advantage. No one has ever said publicly that Bowden bought players or gave them something of value to come to Tallahassee or Morgantown, or Howard College (now Samford) or South Georgia Junior College, where it all started for him.

That is why Bowden is troubled by the possibility that an NCAA Appeals Committee may eventually rule that 14 of his 382 career victories, second only to Penn State’s Joe Paterno at 383, will be “vacated” as punishment for an academic cheating scandal that involved 61 athletes (25 of them football players) at Florida State. The penalty as been appealed but if it stands, Paterno will win the race by default.

I had a chance to spend a couple of hours with Bobby Bowden and his sons Terry, Tommy, and Jeff on Tuesday. They had all come to Florence to help Terry, the new head coach at North Alabama, with his fund raising efforts for the football program.

Until now, Bobby Bowden has been low key about this whole thing. His attitude has been “what happens, happens.” But now, as his Hall of Fame career draws to a close, this matter has clearly disturbed his sense of what is right and wrong and, ultimately, fair to him and to Florida State.

“I’ve been coaching for 55 years and never been accused of cheating,” said Bowden. “And now we’re going to get punished like this for something we knew nothing about? And when we did find out about it we turned ourselves in. We did everything we were supposed to do. But somehow this just does not seem fair.”

The NCAA Committee on Infractions admits that there is no evidence that Bowden or any of his coaches were involved, had knowledge of, or condoned the process that allowed these students to cheat on an on-line course. Florida State discovered the problem, turned itself in, and immediately suspended all athletes involved. Those suspensions in football were for as many as four games.

 The infractions committee, thinking it was giving a lesser punishment than scholarship reductions, called for the games involving the athletes to be vacated, which means that they will be stricken from the record as if they were never played. But what the committee has done, perhaps unknowingly, is inject itself into the race to determine Division I-A football’s all-time winner.

Here is my advice to the NCAA: Find another way on this case.

What happened at Florida State should have never happened. It was sloppy. Florida State should be punished in some fashion. No argument here. But dock the school some scholarships. Fine them. Ban them from TV (fat chance).

The fact is you have no evidence that Bowden or his coaches were involved or had knowledge of it. If you did, I’ve got no problem with this punishment. So find another way to punish the school without getting into the Bowden-Paterno race and putting a permanent asterisk by Bowden’s name.

Just the other day Paterno said that he hopes the NCAA would reconsider its position and allow Bowden to keep the wins. Paterno is a competitor. He doesn’t want to win like that. He wants to beat Bowden fair and square.

“All of Bobby Bowden’s players and all of Joe Paterno’s players want the same thing,” said Terry Bowden. “They want to tell their children and their grandchildren that they played for the guy who won more games than anybody. And that race should be decided on the field.”

Bobby Bowden told me that he hopes the issue will be resolved in Florida State favor “but I won’t slit my wrists if it doesn’t.” He also insisted to me that this decision will not have an impact on when he eventually retires. He said he has an idea when that will be but won’t discuss it “because then people will start counting down the days. I don’t want that.”

Here is my bottom line: The NCAA, however well-intentioned, is inserting itself into a piece of college football history. That is not a proper place for them to be. Punish Florida State appropriately. Just find another way to do it.

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180 comments Add your comment


July 15th, 2009
8:32 am

So, the Old Man at Free Shoes University gets away with another infraction. How will the Head Coach at FSU be remembered? A whiner.


July 15th, 2009
8:34 am

Well, Tony, the truth about Bowden’s record is tha that 40 something of those wins came at lower division school. If those wins count towards the DI all times win record, then, Eddie Robinson is the All Time Winningest Coach in NCAA History.

Bowden has had a great career and is an admirable character. But his “Aw shucks”, good ole boy persona should not be a free pass to undeserved glory. He has a great record; let him stand on that, but under the same rules as everyone else.


July 15th, 2009
8:36 am

In most cases vacating past wins is no punishment at all. This case is obviously different. This action will punish no one but Bobby Bowden. The alabama case is silly. It’s not a punishment. I agree with Tony, the NCAA should find another way…in both cases. Scholarship reductions are in order. If punishment is handed down, it should have some teeth.


July 15th, 2009
8:48 am

Tony, the players had a distinct competitive advantage. They cheated (whether Bowden knew about it or not) on an exam to stay eligible. I don’t see you writing a column about how unfair it is for Nick Saban to have to vacate wins because his players gave textbooks to friends (note: the books were not sold, no money changed hands). How can Bowden dispute this? He is the face of the program. His players (a whole lot of ‘em) cheated on a test for the sole purpose of staying eligible for the following season. They successful cheated, remained eligible and played the next season. When did life start having to be fair? But if Bowden is the face, leader, general of the football program, who then deserves to be punished? The kids were eligible and played the following season. Should FSU vacate the wins and Bowden keep them? Who should be held responsible if Bowden can count those victories as legitimate wins?


July 15th, 2009
8:51 am

Sorry Tony, but I have to disagree.

Whether or not he knew about it, the events happened on his watch. One of the downsides of being at the top is that ultimately, he is responsible for everything that happens to the football team.

I happen to think that vacating wins is generally a meaningless act. But, are Bowden and FSU ready to deal with the NCAA? Maybe take a 1 or 2 year ban on television and loss of scholarships in exchange for keeping the wins? I seriously doubt that.


July 15th, 2009
8:57 am

Bobby has that Selective vision…he just sees what he wants to see and he just looks the other way when he needs “plausible deniability”.

Heck, as old as he is, just let him keep cheating and let him join the sec…where cheating is admired…and expected.

Paul Slimebaum

July 15th, 2009
8:57 am

Hey look at me!! LOOK AT ME!!! I love to p**s everybody off except of course for the Mighty Saban! Isn’t he going to be the winningest all time coach anyway, so who cares about Joe blow or Ol Man Bobby anyway?? Hey look at me! I’m the Lane Kiffin of sports radio!!!


July 15th, 2009
8:57 am

Good Ol’ Bobby….I’m praying for a misdemeanor… is one of the biggest hypocrites to ever grace a college football field. He sold out in the 80’s when he was on the verge of being run out of Tallahassee.

I say, take away the wins at Howard/Samford, give Bobby back the 14 wins and hammer FSU with scholarship reductions for “Lack of Institutional Control”….which is what should have been done in the first place.

FSU “self” reported once they were sued and the cat was out of the bag.


July 15th, 2009
8:59 am

I’m really trying my best to avoid bias, but I have to disagree on this one. If this was anyone else but Bowden, would we be having this discussion? Why no outrage over the title winning track team and what they might have to vacate? Who’s going to protect Mike Shula’s legacy? ;) I’ve never quite understood the love affair with Bowden. Is he getting to “aww…look at the old guy” mode? Why do his victories count from the D-II schools he coached at?

Ok, I’m probably going to far at this point, it’s just interesting that there are all these calls to protect Bowden when the penalties to the program could have been a lot worse. (I think the NCAA actually said that). Wasn’t Harrick villified for the same type of thing at UGA? Seems like the question is would FSU prefer a penalty that hurts the athletic program or one that hurts Bowden. Their responses seem to answer that question in a way that, in my opinion is sad.


July 15th, 2009
9:00 am

Well said Jim and KR. Pleading ignorance is a tired defense….I’ve been an FSU fan my whole life, but this whole situation is starting to border on embarrassing.

TommyGator: Eddie Robinson is the winningest coach in Division 1-AA history. But he is still behind Division III coach John Gagliardi of St. Johns in Minnesota for overall wins in college football. Of course, JoePa and Bowden are behind both of them.


July 15th, 2009
9:02 am

I wholeheartedly agree with Tony, but then again, I am an alumni of Samford University (where both Bobby and Terry coached – I was there while Terry was the coach in the early ’90’s) and a big fan of Bobby and FSU.


July 15th, 2009
9:02 am

Unfortunately for BB, academic fraud is serious stuff and must be dealt with a severe penalty. Actually, the school is getting off rather easy, and if not for Bowdens race for most wins, they would be pretty happy in Tally.

Not Disappointed

July 15th, 2009
9:03 am

Tony, I know it’s own his watch, but some punishment is in order with teeth. I don’t know if wins are the answer. But, taking away wins does hurt where it counts. Just one of many opinions.

Ramblin Wreck Yall!!!


July 15th, 2009
9:11 am

I don’t think there’s gonna be much sympathy in this state for things like this. Maybe Bowden WOULD HAVE BEEN the winningest coach…if he could keep his players from cheating. As far as I’m concerned, I can see why the NCAA is doing it this way. You win a game by cheating, then you haven’t won the game. He wants those wins back then he needs to outlast JoePa and win more. More than likely the rest of the CFB world feels the same way…at least the rest of SEC-ACC country.

Peter Warrick

July 15th, 2009
9:13 am

Hey, why is everyone up in my mans buziness anyway?? You acting like he shot the Prezident or something.


July 15th, 2009
9:16 am

Peter Warrick, shouldn’t you be in a Dillard’s store somewhere getting a severe discount on clothing? :-)

Gandalf, the White! (!)

July 15th, 2009
9:17 am

The school cheated…it’s that simple. The wins aren’t the coaches, they are the schools. Get real here.


July 15th, 2009
9:19 am

The kids cheated, they played in games, therefore you need to vacate them. Having fewer wins than JoePa is such a non issue. Outside of his family and crazy FSU fans, who cares about this?


July 15th, 2009
9:22 am

Pointless article. As TommyGator pointed out, Bowden shouldn’t even be in the discussion of winningest coach.

If you’re talking about the winningest coach in Division 1-A, Paterno has it hands down, as 31 of Bowden’s wins came when he coached at 1-AA Samford (formerly Howard). This puts Bowden at 351 wins and Paterno at 383.

If you’re talking winningest coach in Division 1 (both A and AA), Eddie Robinson takes the cake with 408 wins.

Winningest coach for all of college football is John Gagliardi with 461.

Father of 5

July 15th, 2009
9:22 am

The NCAA is a joke anyway. Go ahead and “vacate” wins — college football is the greatest game on the field, and the biggest joke off the field. Everyone knows who won on the field.

As for the horrible “scandal” — the only one who should have been punished is the lazy “teacher” who gave is class a take-home on-line exam. Incredibly lazy, and begging for cheating. U of Fla has more video courses, on-line courses, less teacher/student interaction, and more opportunity for cheating than any university anywhere. The difference is that everyone in Gainesville is trained to cover up problems, not expose them. The issue at FSU involved athletes of many sports, in a known “gimmie” class. The track team faces a loss of a national championship if wins are “vacated.” Idiotic penalty. Regardless, everyone knows who won on the field.

As for ripping Bowden’s character, I would send my sons to play for a man like him and Richt every day of the week and twice on Sunday — over morally bankrupt coaches with better resumes like Meyer or Saban. Some things count more in life (and beyond). But that’s just me.


July 15th, 2009
9:23 am

St. Bobby has always been on the edge when it comes to the education process. Deion Sanders even had a rule made in his honor that said student athletes should actually GO TO CLASS. To me it is like a serial criminal that is caught on tax charges, yes it is a technicality but it has been a long time in the making.

JoePa should get the record; he at least is involved in practices. Bobby just sits in the tower at practice and seems lost on the side line during games. I am tired of watching two men battle for a title their assistants are doing the work for.

Michael G.

July 15th, 2009
9:24 am

So bobby would rather accept scholarship reductions, which would put a undue burden on some players on his team, rather than vacate a couple of wins? What kind of me first ego trip is he teaching his kids in Tallahassee? No wonder FSU has been average at best in football the last 10 years. Time to go sit on your back porch, drink country time lemonade, and retire.

Shame on you, Tony, for defending this egotistical position.


July 15th, 2009
9:26 am

Accountability, oversight, and instituional control are the issues relative to the cheating scandal. Bowden’s lowly and unbelievable response to theses issues is, “I’m just the football coach and therefore I should not be held accountable nor should have I been proactively overseeing my football program. Moreover, it’s the responsibility of the university to exert its control over the behavior of my knucklehead football players.” Maybe Bowden should have sought the advice of John Wooden in terms of how to ignore ethical issues relative to your program, yet still appear holier than thou.


July 15th, 2009
9:32 am


I am surprised by your attitude on this. Are you really saying the rules should be different for Bobby Bowden because he has a chance to see a record? If he was 20 wins behind Paterno or if this was another school where this was not a factor then this woul dbe OK?

In reality, the NCAA is doing FSU a huge favor by not hitting them hard with scholarship reductions and other limitations that would actually affect the program going forward and hurt. This “punishment” is only to Bobby Bowden’s vanity and ego and I am still shocked that FSU is pushing the NCAA to consider something else that would actually make it harder for them to be successful on the field.

Also, I think you really need to dig into the details of this regarding Bobby’s comments that they reported it as soon as found out as suspended those involved. FSU’s first try at this was to suspend a small number of kids across a number of sports (3-4 football) and thens tick their head in the sand and hope that would take care of it. Only after the parent of one of the kids in another sport who was suspended made noise about it being unfair to his daughter when so many other were involved did they really look at it and “my goodness”, there were a lot more involved including 30+ football players. Funny how that did not occur till the end of football season after FSU had lost any chance for titles or big bowl games and was headed to the Music City bowl.

FSU has been anything but cooperative with the NCAA in this process and they should not be allowed to pick their punishment. Personally, I would rather see them hit with scholarship reductions and other penalties to weaken them in the future but the whole idea that the NCAA should do something different because he is Bobby Bowden is wrong and a double standard.


July 15th, 2009
9:33 am


Bobby, I’ve always liked you..but at this point, you are acting like a little selfish kid.


July 15th, 2009
9:34 am

So for years Saint Bobby said, “Aw, shucks – I don’t even pay attention to that ‘most wins’ race!”

Now that he might lose it, he says, “That @%$#@ NCAA committee!! I can’t believe they’re doing this to me!”

Do you need any better proof that Saint Bobby’s “Aw shucks, dang it” personality is just an act?!


July 15th, 2009
9:37 am

Sorry, Mr College Football, Coach Bowden already has an asterisk next to his name. The wins at Howard should never had counted as D1 wins.


July 15th, 2009
9:38 am

Yep stick up for someone who breaks the rules tony. what a guy you are. rules are rules. fsu broke them. and how many other rules dontcha know they broke and never got caught. come on. they had some really bad seeds at that school from 90-2002. too bad bobby. now go retire and leave cf once and for all. tired of hearing you whine.


July 15th, 2009
9:40 am

Your views here aren’t getting a lot of love, Tony. Would you like to issue a retraction?


July 15th, 2009
9:42 am

To father of 5 – you said “some things count more in life” – pleazzzeeee

Don’t try to judge Meyer and paint Bowden as a saint just because FSU is not competitive anymore.
Bowden and FSU fans totally overlooked all of their crooked ways in the 80’s and 90’s.


July 15th, 2009
9:44 am

A cheat is a cheat. Bonds, Clemens, Bowden. None of whom should get credit for the things that happened during the time they cheated. If passing a test kept them in football, how could it be seen as anything but CHEATING…………


July 15th, 2009
9:44 am

I don’t think Bama or FSU should vacate wins or give up scholarships for the players actions. I think the students should be punished in the way as any other student

I don’t think Bobby’s wins he had at a lower should count the same as JoePa’s D1 wins.

The NCAA does not treat things consistantly. An example is OU with Bomar and OSU with Troy Smith. They both take money. OU kicks Bomar off the team and is forced to vacate wins. Troy goes on to win a national title.

Also when is anything going to happen with USC? or is the NCAA in love with that LA market being the only pro team in town?


July 15th, 2009
9:46 am

Bobby “Over The Hill” Bowden seems to only be interested in the NCAA not taking his wins away. I haven’t heard him say anything remorseful or about how unfortunate this whole affair is. Just another sign that he should go quietly into the sunset. Don’t be a whining old man!

Barnhart = Bowden

July 15th, 2009
9:49 am

Wait. Wait! Tony spoke with Bobby, Terry, Jeff and the rest of the Bowden group who everyone knows and PUBLICLY knows have cheated and bent the rules for years yet somehow reached a different conclusion. The PUBLIC is tired of this Tony. And the aw, shucks attitude isn’t working. We should ban you from reporting.


July 15th, 2009
10:02 am

Terry Bowden will do better recruiting in Alabama than Gene Chizik ever will.


July 15th, 2009
10:02 am

Old man Bowden has been cheating for years…he just hasn’t been caught!
Take those wins away!!!!!!!!!!!!11


July 15th, 2009
10:02 am

You can’t say those students were necessarily cheating to stay eligible. It is not as if that one test would determine eligibility. Even if they failed that class, it is the GPA and progression toward degree that determines whether they are eligible or not. Each student was at a different point in their academic career, so I am sure the motives vary.

I’m not excusing the actions of the students, but I want it understood that the motives were most likely not competitive advantage as this one test was not going to effect the academic standing of most of those students. I would assume that most of the students were just lazy and wanted to get through with it. In all honesty, any teacher that gives an online test makes the assumption that students will go home and look up the answers, talk to roommates or even talk to TEAMMATES. The problem here, was that the tests taken by student athletes were taken on the athletic center’s computers, so it becomes an issue of institutional control when student athletes are passing around answers.

I would also like to point out that Bobby Bowden is not the head of FSU athletics. There is NO WAY for a coach on any team to be able to track what their players are doing in every office that touches athletics- compliance, media relations, boosters, marketing, life skills, academic support…The Director of Athletics at Florida State at that time was Dave Hart, who is now at Alabama as an Associate AD. He was the “head of the corporation” so to speak, not Bobby Bowden.

I don’t think Bobby Bowden is whining about anything. He is backing the stance that the University has taken. All of this is very simple- you cannot track what every student in every sport does. Does cheating make a student ineligible? Yes. Are you going to follow every NCAA student to class and make sure they aren’t looking on the paper next to them. No. You have to give some blind faith to your student athletes everyday at every school. The only discipline you can take is reactionary, which FSU DID. They made each student athlete sit out a THIRD of their season even if that test had no bearing on their eligibility, they conducted a private investigation in addition to the investigation by the NCAA, and they put themselves on probation. I think that is more than sufficient.


July 15th, 2009
10:05 am

In his argument, Tony presents yet another example of what has gone wrong to diminish America’s once true greatness. Is there not a college football coach(or politician)remaining today with an ounce of integrity who is willing to deny self for the greater benefit of our society? If Bobby Bowden really wants to live the image he presents of himself, then he would be the first person to WANT to use this example for his players and all young people that cheating not only hurts yourself, but it also greatly harms others associated with you, your school, and your sport. Bowden could take this approach and be the kind of example he proclaims to have always been for his players, but sadly this has not happened. Unfortunately, his self ego and yearning for his own “legacy of greatness”, based upon the number of football games he has won, will take precedence over this golden opportunity to do the right thing and leave a genuine legacy of greatness by helping to show our youth, other coaches, and the world that in America, we still believe cheating has no value in sports or life. Coach Bowden, you are missing out on this, and even though I have no doubt that you did not personally participate in or condone the cheating, your athletes did and you should be the first to deny accepting credit for the tainted wins. You will leave a legacy, it remains to be seen what kind.


July 15th, 2009
10:06 am

Seriously, Tony, if you’re going to write a blog defending Bobby Bowden, after what I’m sure was a very emotional plea to you by the entire Bowden family, I think it’s only fair that you tell us your opinion of the Howard wins, as well as things like granting “diplomatic immunity” to Sebastian Janikowski.

It’s obvious that most, if not all, of us are interested in hearing those opinions.


July 15th, 2009
10:10 am

I agree w/ tommy gator. Rules should apply to everyone and enforced evenly. What the NCAA is doing to Bowden is a disgrace. He and his staff were never the issue and never implicated. They did nothing wrong and now Bowden must vacate games? What was not mentioned in this article was if FSU wins this appel or the intended outside lawsuit against the NCAA, it will be punished again by the NCAA. They have already said if they lose they will come back and take more scholarships away from Fl St. for winning their case against them. Hows that for national leadership. Don’t like Fla St. never have. But this is wrong on so many levels.

Father of 5

July 15th, 2009
10:14 am

gatorref, I know this is a very hard question for a gator to answer, but has YOUR life changed because of what Tebow has accomplished for that school in Gainesville? If not, you might talk to someone who knows Richt or Bowden or someone who really understands what kind of change you need.

BCS Champs Again

July 15th, 2009
10:15 am

“Don’t do the crime unles you can pay the time”… thing you will sucking up to bama to get there wins back for their scandal….

Eric W

July 15th, 2009
10:18 am

Perhaps this is the culmination of all the “little” things that players in his program have been accused of and/or convicted of over the last 30 years. The proverbial straw that broke the camels back. I always tell my kids, the way people treat you is a result of the accumulation of your actions over time…..both good and bad.


July 15th, 2009
10:25 am


July 15th, 2009
10:27 am

Father of 5,

As you lump together Bobby Bowden (whom I don’t respect, due to all the times he has sold out) with Mark Richt (whom I do respect, and I’m a Gator fan!), I’m trying to remember if Richt has publicly taken the same stance as Bowden on this. In any case, I agree with DoctorC’s views that if Bobby really wants to show how great his character is, he should be saying, “Cheating is wrong. I accept any penalty given so that we can be an example to young kids of what not to do.” In fact, if he did that, I’d start to gain back some respect for him. As it is, he’s just an example of selfishness, not sportsmanship.


July 15th, 2009
10:28 am

Mark… you are just wrong when you say FSU was uncooperative with the NCAA. The NCAA even said so themselves that FSU has done its part and in a timely fashion. FSU went even so far as having to threaten the NCAA to release its finding to the public. Finally Gov Crist said he would sue the NCAA for violation of the states “Sunshine Laws”. The NCAA soon backed down and released the findings to select news agencies who had also filed a law suit of their own. Fla St are not saints by any means. But they are getting mugged here by pompass ass wipes in the NCAA.
Go Dawgs

[...] Tony Barnhart thinks it would be fairer for the NCAA to dock FSU a few scholarships than to take Diddy’s wins away.  I wonder if Jimbo Fisher shares Barnhart’s sentiments. [...]


July 15th, 2009
10:36 am

Enter your comments here

Father of 8

July 15th, 2009
10:38 am

Got you beat, father of 5, but my having more children has nothing to do with your lack of logic and incredible insight into the academic chicanery you allege is going on at U of FL and your opinion of the morally bankrupt Meyer and Saban. I am confident you have proof of which you speak about U of F, Meyer, and Saban. How about sharing with the rest of us ignorant fans of UA and UF out here. We need more obviously brighter and morally superior people such as yourself to enlighten us.


July 15th, 2009
10:43 am

It is absolutely competitive advantage when the players cheat to pass an exam which in turn allows them to pass the class which in turn gives them the necessary course credits to stay eligible for the following season. It is competitive advantage when the players are allowed to use means to pass the class that are not afforded to other students and not afforded to other student athletes at other institutions.

So, yes, competitive advantage was obtained by the football players cheating on the exam.
Secondly, Bowden is absolutely not in charge of FSU athletics, but he is most certainly in charge of the football program. The buck stops at his desk and he is the one that should shoulder the responsibility and blame if his players are involved in a cheating scandal like this one.