by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

In light of the recent investiagtive report on ESPN's OTL that fingered several major college programs, Florida State in particular, for athletes avoiding prosecution when suspected in crimes, we are reminded of a story we penned last October regarding the same subject...about eight motnhs before OTL suggested the same thing... (Reprinted from TGS Volume 58, Issue No. 7, October 13, 2014)

And here we thought the NFL was the place this fall for scandal and controversy! It turns out that college football is hardly immune to such developments, either, thanks to a couple of late-week storylines that include enough intrigue to trigger significant repercussions perhaps even beyond the fall.

The beneficiaries of recent news are conspiracy theorists, who have just been thrown some red meat from a pair of stories in the Sunshine State. First is the matter of Florida QB Treon Harris, who was reinstated by the Gator football team last Friday (but held out of Saturday’s game vs. LSU) after being suspended early last week following a sexual assault claim. Harris, 19, was originally iced last Monday when university police began to investigate an accusation that Harris assaulted a female student at an on-campus residence hall early Sunday morning. This less than 24 hours after Harris was the hero of a 10-9 win at Tennessee, coming off the bench to relieve ineffective starter Jeff Driskel and lead the Gators to victory. But Harris’ accuser would withdraw her complaint later in the week and decide not pursue criminal charges (though maintaining the right to do so in the future).

Anyone who knows the sort of football-crazed environment around Gainesville would be understandably skeptical about such developments. Let’s just say that we are relatively sure that Gloria Allred did not get in touch with the accuser before she changed her mind. In these hyper-sensitive times, many of our SEC sources believe the last has not been heard from this storyline.

Meanwhile, generating a bit more publicity, about 150 miles to the west in Tallahassee, was news that Florida State was re-opening its inquiry into the behavior of Heisman-winning QB Jameis Winston, whose off-field escapades over the past two years have been enough to fill a tabloid. Winston is scheduled to face a disciplinary hearing in which he might be charged with up to four violations of FSU’s student conduct code, two of which involve allegations of sexual conduct stemming from a December 2012 incident.

Winston’s antics have been well-publicized, though to date the Heisman winner has avoided any finding of fault in this potentially most-serious of his transgressions. Remember, in December 2013, State Attorney Willie Meggs announced that Winston would not be criminally charged with sexual assault in relation to that 2012 incident. While the statute of limitations on charging Winston will not expire until 2017, there is still no indication at this time that local law enforcement plans to re-open the case.

But FSU, sensing perhaps that it could end up in the crossfire of various activist groups, and perhaps in damage-control prevention consultation with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, has scheduled a new disciplinary hearing that would examine whether Winston, who played for the Seminoles last Saturday vs. Syracuse, violated code of conduct rules. They’re already walking on eggshells in Tallahassee because the school is also the subject of an ongoing probe by the Office of Civil Rights, an agency of the US Department of Education, into the university’s compliance with Title IX.

There is a grassy-knoll/conspiratorial angle to the Winston storyline, too, especially with reports in the New York Times and Fox Sports that portray FSU as impeding past investigations into the conduct of Winston and many other Seminole football players.

What should disturb football fans is that Florida State is certainly not the only gridiron powerhouse to bend over backwards to circumvent the legal process and protect its players in trouble. But the NY Times piece, written by Mike McIntire and Walt Bogdanovich and first published last Friday, focuses specifically on FSU and goes into some disturbing detail about the lengths to which the school has apparently gone in reaction to numerous occasions of wrongdoing by Seminoles football players, from criminal mischief and motor-vehicle theft to domestic violence. With local law enforcement apparently going to great lengths to find reasons not to charge football heroes like Winston, arrests have been avoided, investigations have stalled, and, according to McIntire & Bogdanovich, players have escaped serious consequences.

McIntire and Bogdanovich do point out that not all troubled Noles have been able to sidestep prosecution. Over the last three years, at least nine players have been arrested on charges ranging from sexual assault to being an accessory to a fatal shooting. But on other occasions, despite strong evidence, investigations have been delayed and sometimes derailed.

“In a community (Tallahassee) whose self-image and economic well-being are so tightly bound to the fortunes of the nation’s top-ranked college football team,” wrote McIntire & Bogdanovich, “law enforcement officers are finely attuned to a suspect’s football connections.”

We expect another angle of the FSU storyline is going to generate considerable attention in the near future, too, regarding Associate AD Monk Bonasorte, a convicted felon who in 1987 pleaded guilty to cocaine distribution and was sentenced to five years probation and 1000 hours of community service. This is the fellow who oversees the compliance department at FSU. Meanwhile, Seminole AD Stan Wilcox has been mostly mum. Something tells us this FSU storyline isn’t going to disappear quietly now that national media, and not just the local reporters who are used to yielding to FSU’s desires in Tallahassee, have their claws into the details. Stay tuned.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, as we approach the halfway point in the college season, there have been numerous surprising and disappointing teams. A quick review of the most-pronounced of those follows.

SURPRISES: We can state the obvious with teams such as Mississippi State (6-0 SU, 5-1 vs. line), Ole Miss (6-0, 6-0), and TCU (4-1, 5-0). But there are plenty of others flying under the radar. Colorado State (5-1, 5-1) now has an 18-5 spread mark for HC Jim McElwain dating to late 2012. FBS newcomer and Sun Belt member Georgia Southern (5-2, 5-2) has not skipped a beat for new HC Willie Fritz (ex-Sam Houston State). Skip Holtz’ La Tech (3-3, 5-1) has covers at Oklahoma and Auburn and a hot new QB in Iowa transfer Cody Sokol. UAB (4-2, 4-2) is turning heads with its big-play offense for new HC Bill Clark. Western Michigan (3-3, 6-0) owns two of the breakout stars in the MAC, soph QB Zach Terrell & frosh RB Jarvion Franklin. UMass (1-6, 5-2) has upgraded for new/old HC Mark Whipple. Kentucky (5-1, 5-1) looks like it will be bowling in HC Mark Stoops’ 2nd year. Virginia (4-2, 5-1) has played well enough to take HC Mike London off the hot seat. Ron Turner's FIU (3-4, 6-1) has covered 6 of 7.

DISAPPOINTMENTS: Expected ACC Coastal contender North Carolina (2-4, 1-5) is now going to have to scramble just to get bowl-eligible. Florida (3-2, 2-3) still struggles on offense, and HC Will Muschamp is on the hot seat. Alabama (5-1, 1-4) is having its hands full in the SEC West. Like Bama, Florida State (6-0, 1-5) has just one spread cover. UCLA (4-2, 1-5) is now out of “Final Four” talk, as its gambling “D” has had a bit too much Hollywood in it, while the OL has offered spotty protection to QB Brett Hundley. South Carolina (3-3, 1-5) already has three league losses as it competes in the “lesser” SEC East. And Vanderbilt (2-5, 3-4) has dropped considerably under new HC Derek Mason.

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