Will the Same Off-Field Issues Lead FSU to a National Title?
Twenty-one years ago, a football team in Tallahassee was in the middle of a great run through college programs. It had a soon-to-be Heisman Trophy winning quarterback and a head coach on the cusp of winning his first national title. Oh, did I mention the team that did eventually win the national title and claimed a Heisman, suffered a loss to Notre Dame and still was able to get to the top of the mountain.
Last season, a football team in Tallahassee was in the middle of a great run through college programs. It had a soon-to-be Heisman Trophy winning quarterback and a head coach on the cusp of winning his first national title. Oh, did I mention the team that did eventually win the national title and claimed a Heisman, suffered some off-field issues which hampered the run a bit, but the school went undefeated and the off-field issues seemed to dissipate, or so we thought.
This season, in the middle of an undefeated run to a potential second straight national title, this same team cannot get away from the issues that affected the program last year and a Heisman winning quarterback who cannot seem to keep his nose out of trouble.
For Florida State, it is one thing after another, after another.
Can a team, that has the most talent in the country, but has not played up to its potential, not only beat Notre Dame on Saturday, but finally put to rest the issues surrounding Jameis Winston so head coach Jimbo Fisher can lead this program to another national title?
In the most recent accusations against the all-world quarterback, it appears so far, according to ESPN.com, there is no proof Winston was paid to sign autographs, much like Todd Gurley was accused of and was suspended by the University of Georgia and the NCAA.
Gurley has since been reinstated, but it is not known if he will play again for Mark Richt in Athens.
According to the report on ESPN.com, there is plenty of “unknowns” surrounding Winston in this matter.
Florida State said Friday its athletic department compliance staff is reviewing the reported authenticated signatures by Jameis Winston, but has yet to find evidence that the star quarterback accepted payment for the autographs.
ESPN reported Thursday that more than 2,000 authenticated signatures by Winston have been found on the James Spence Authentication website.
"At this time we have no information indicating that he accepted payment for items reported to bear his signature, thereby compromising his athletics eligibility," the statement said. "The fact that items appear on an Internet site bearing the signature of a student-athlete does not singularly determine a violation of NCAA rules."
Winston has signed a tremendous number of autographs in public, particularly at baseball games, but the fact hundreds of signed jersey numbers and more than 50 signed jerseys, photos and mini-helmets were sequentially numbered by JSA's website suggests the possibility that the signatures might have come from an organized signing event.
Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher told reporters after the team's victory last weekend against Syracuse that Winston told him he did not get paid for signing the items. No one has publicly alleged Winston got paid for these items, unlike the case involving Georgia running back Todd Gurley, who has been suspended indefinitely while the school conducts an investigation into whether he got paid for doing private autograph signings.
"We have kept both the conference office and the NCAA apprised of our efforts on this matter," the statement from Florida State said. "The University takes very seriously any and all allegations of potential rules violations and processes them in accordance with ACC and NCAA policies and procedures."
Whether there is culpability on Winston’s part in this matter may not mean a thing in the world of public opinion. The redshirt-sophomore’s credibility is at the center of this issue after many violations on and off campus in Tallahassee, which includes being accused of sexual assault last season from an incident in 2012. Winston was not prosecuted by the State Attorney for what was determined to be a lack of evidence in the matter. Since then, Winston has been accused of stealing crab legs and making improper comments of a sexual nation in the school’s Student Union, which led to his being suspended this season for the Clemson game – where the Seminoles barely won in overtime.
Throughout the entire process, Winston has tried to brush off the attention and place the focus of the program on winning football games and national titles. The school also has lost a bit of support from national fan bases – where the dislike of the situation has led to an almost “bad boy” image for the program much like Oklahoma and Miami of the late 1980s or the Oakland Raiders of the late 1970s.
Winston has played well this season, but the Seminoles have not played to their potential. Can they put it all together on Saturday night with Notre Dame in Tallahassee and a chance to prove this is a program that can survive through everything all over again?
The Seminoles may win the battle against the Fight Irish and reclaim the top spot in the national rankings, but if the NCAA and the media continue to investigate the program, Winston and Fisher cannot win the war.