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Vacation Separated Ugly June, Crazy July

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

  July 1, 2003 TALLAHASSEE — In an effort to escape the heat that has made life uncomfortable around the Florida State athletic department, AD Dave Hart and his staff recently jetted out of town for a working respite in Oregon, while university president T.K. Wetherell headed to the wilds of Montana for a vacation.

Given the way May and June unfolded, it's a wonder they managed to stay within the contiguous 48. To summarize what the FSU athletic brass and Wetherell have been dealing with since the end of the school year:

  • Former QB Adrian McPherson's trial for gambling over the internet ends in a mistrial because of a hung jury. According to one juror, five of six empaneled jurors were convinced by the state's evidence that McPherson had been wagering on football games;
  • The ACC's expansion efforts — with Hart as a key player from the beginning — hit a major snag with university presidents, who first agreed to a 12-team league, then didn't, and finally settled on 11. In the process, Hart and his colleagues were ripped from coast to coast for what was perceived as a corporate raid of the Big East, and in the end they were left with sullied reputations after the presidents backed off a deal that would have brought Miami on board with Syracuse and Boston College;
  • At the behest of Wetherell, who took the president's post in January, two studies into the workings of the athletic department prompted FSU's board of trustees to ask for sweeping changes in the way Hart's office conducts business.

Wetherell has asked Hart to conduct an internal evaluation of his staff by the end of the summer and wants the athletic department to become an integrated part of the university. The studies showed that under Hart's direction, athletics had “isolated” itself from the university.

If there was any good news, it was that Wetherell was given a clean bill of health after undergoing extensive treatment for prostate cancer over the previous two months.

Coincidental or not, the late June getaways were timely, if nothing else. The temperature figures to get turned up even more in July.

McPherson appears headed for a July 14 felony trial for the theft, forgery and uttering of a check from a local Seminole booster-owned business that led to his dismissal from the team in November. His attorney, Grady C. Irvin Jr., has hinted that he will go after FSU's athletic department this time around in defense of his client, after negotiations with the state attorney's office failed to land a plea agreement.

Irvin has publicly suggested that the business where the check was stolen — R&R Truck Accessories — was a favorite spot for prominent FSU athletes and that financial favors may have been traded. A second booster-owned business, Collector's Attic, also may be involved, according to Irvin.

FSU associate AD Bob Minnix has conducted an internal investigation into the businesses, and the school is awaiting word from the NCAA whether an ACC championship ring belonging to defensive end Willie Jones — as sold by Collector's Attic — constituted a rules violation.

McPherson also could stand trial later this summer for passing bad checks, and it's unclear whether the state will pursue a new trial of the former QB on the gambling charge. After the hung jury, prosecutors certainly appeared to be leaning in that direction.

Meanwhile, defensive tackle Travis Johnson is set to stand trial in late July for sexual assault.

As for the internal review of his staff, Hart will be under the gun to make some changes, perhaps in personnel but almost certainly in the way department matters are reported and handled, in order to appease Wetherell. Privately, sources have said Wetherell respects Hart but is not at all pleased with his lucrative contract, which ranks among the best in the country.

For his part, Hart has made a point of keeping Wetherell abreast of all department matters since February, and he certainly has publicly supported the new president.

As for the expansion fiasco, Hart remained mum on the subject, although department insiders said he — and other pro-expansion ADs around the ACC — were absolutely livid with the president's council.

For good measure, football coach Bobby Bowden has virtually shut down communication with the media, clearly as a reaction to unfavorable coverage of the McPherson saga and other unsavory incidents. FSU baseball coach Mike Martin also has been under fire, after his top-ranked team gagged in the super regionals at home for a second straight year. Well-respected academic advisor Matt Schmauch died of cardiac arrest, stemming from an allergic reaction, while attending a seminar. And the lawsuit over the death of former FSU football player Devaughn Darling remains unsettled.

Given the events of the summer so far, and in the immediate future, it's hard to imagine a more unpleasant working environment than FSU's athletic department these days. It would surprise no one if Hart were to move on after eight years at FSU in the not-too-distant future.

Football: More Qualifying Woes

While it's true that Florida State was forced to upgrade its academic standards (no more non-qualifiers, limited partial qualifiers, etc.) when it joined the ACC in 1991, it's also true that the Seminoles continue to walk an academic tightrope with their football signees.

Throughout the 1990s, when the NCAA kept and reported statistics (through 1997) on the GPAs and SAT/ACT scores of incoming recruits, FSU almost always ranked dead-last in the ACC. The Seminoles admittedly adopted an SEC-like mentality on the recruiting trail — find the best talent, sign as much of it as possible, and cross your fingers that they meet NCAA minimums — and, in the long run, it worked. They regularly lost a handful of signees to academics between signing day and preseason practice, but they won 10 of 11 ACC titles, and they even had a few classes post impressive graduation rates.

This year, FSU achieved only half of its usual equation on the recruiting trail, signing fewer prep All-Americans than the norm but still plenty of academic risks. Entering July, at least four Class of 2003 members — that's 25 percent of a 16-player class — still were attempting to be cleared in time to enroll this fall.

Three players — wide receiver DeCody Fagg, defensive lineman Chris Anderson and offensive lineman Aubrey McPhadden — were holding out hope that they will receive qualifying test scores when they are posted. The three took the last test on June 7 and expected their results by mid-July. Linebacker Anthony Kelly, the least heralded player of the group, appears headed for a junior college.

Anderson and Fagg were expected to have the best shot at making immediate contributions, given FSU's lack of depth at their positions. Anderson, originally a 2002 signee out of Jacksonville Mandarin, spent the past year at Hargrave Military Academy after failing to meet initial eligibility requirements. He recently had a qualifying test score thrown out (because of an unusually large jump) and reportedly will consider legal action if he again comes up short on his most recent test.

McPhadden's status is unclear. He initially failed to pass the standardized FCAT test, which became mandatory for high school graduation in Florida this year, but later learned he was part of a low-scoring group that was reclassified with a passing grade. Thus, he did graduate from Jacksonville First Coast, but he's still awaiting a qualifying score that suits his core GPA.

The failure of all four players to qualify could create long-term depth issues for the Seminoles, who failed to enroll five of 22 signees from their 2002 class and already have lost five players to attrition from their 2001 class.

NCAA Visit Concerned Johnson

NCAA investigators stopped by the Florida State campus in late June, but the Seminoles weren't surprised or alarmed by the visit. Investigators wanted to talk to recent basketball signee Alexander Johnson, a controversial recruiting figure who is linked to the on-going investigation into Georgia's basketball program.

A high school guidance counselor, Ernest Shanks Jr. from Colquitt County, Ga., made a cash arrangement to have another student take the SAT test for Johnson in December 2002. (The student later backed out and never took the test.) Johnson had signed with the Bulldogs in 2001 but failed to post a qualifying test score and transferred from his school in Albany, Ga., to Bridgton Academy in Maine.

While Shanks admits he had a role in the violation — he subsequently resigned from his position and lost his Georgia teaching certificate — Johnson has claimed all along that he does not know the man, and that he had nothing to do with the testing irregularities. (Nevertheless, the SEC office told its member schools not to recruit Johnson, and those that had been doing so stopped upon that directive.) Johnson, who signed with the Seminoles in May, reportedly earned a qualifying test score while attending Bridgton Academy.

FSU officials are confident that they have ample documentation to show that Johnson took the test in Maine and posted a qualifying score. While the NCAA may have to rule on Johnson's eligibility before he's cleared to play for Leonard Hamilton, the only way the talented big man could end up on the sidelines this season is if he lied to investigators.