I know phrases like "four-year probation" and "vacated wins" sounds really bad for Florida State, but the truth is that their punishment is a weak response that doesn't fit the crime.
Let's look at what penalties they got from the NCAA:
• Public reprimand and censure. Oh no! Your words sting me like angry bees.
• Four years of probation. This is also meaningless. They simply have to wait two extra years before they can start cheating again.
• Scholarship reductions in 10 sports. This is the only actual sanction. This will hurt the non-football sports more, of course, but the NCAA barely tinkered with the self-imposed sanctions Florida State had already given themselves. The football team recommended a reduction of five scholarships. The NCAA upped it by one. What an iron fist!
• Vacating of victories in which ineligible athletes competed. This sounds very harsh... but is it? First, the NCAA says it's up to FSU to determine which games involved ineligible players and then tell the NCAA later. Second, they will almost certainly appeal this part of the ruling and other schools have won that appeal before.
Third, who gives a crap? The teams that lost those games don't get to claim them as a victory and even if they could, no one would feel good about it. Changing the record book doesn't change the memory of what happened. Michigan "lost" nearly four seasons of wins and two Final Four banners, but that will never stop people from marveling about the Fab Five. It's embarrassing, but that's all. (And the NCAA even waited until FSU was on spring break and National Signing Day was well passed to announce their findings, further lessening the embarrassment.) The worst thing that might happen is that the track team might have to forfeit a National Championship, but no one will ever forget that they really did win it.
• Show-cause orders-ranging from three to five years-on three university employees. Three low-level chumps (academic specialists and a tutor) will take the fall by not being able to work in an athletic department for a few years. No coaches or administrators will be punished.
So what did they do to earn such a "harsh" rebuke? Sixty-one athletes from 10 FSU sports who were taking a history of music classic were given answers to an online test and some had papers written for them. That's not a couple of goofballs helping each other with a project. That's systematic cheating spread across the entire athletic department. They pushed athletes to a ridiculous creampuff class and they still had to cheat in order to pass it.
Yet ... no postseason bans and no coaches will fired or suspended or receive pay cuts. Anyway you look at it, it is a slap on the wrist and yet another reminder that the NCAA is not interested in any serious enforcement of their academic rules. Well, at least not at a big powerful school like Florida State.
Tim Stephens at the Orlando Sentinel explains it best:
Still think it's tough? Just consider that FSU was found guilty of one of the worst academic fraud cases in NCAA history. It involved 61 athletes in 10 sports. It involved, as the NCAA noted and FSU agreed, fraud committed by the employees who were there to preserve the very academic integrity that was defiled. And yet when you look team by team, FSU's scholarship cuts and other sanctions were no worse and were in fact lower than what many teams face for poor performances in the classroom (penalties for a low Academic Progress Rate).
Message: It's worse to recruit players who actually flunk than it is to cheat to help them pass.
In other words, it's a sad joke. Bobby Bowden might lose his shot at the precious wins record, but everyone already knows what he did to get there in the first place.
Florida State's NCAA penalties: It's not so bad, unless you are Bobby Bowden [Orlando Sentinel]
Florida State University gets 4 years' probation in cheating scandal [Miami Herald]
FSU failed to mind itself, NCAA showed its power [Pensacola News Journal]
Florida State sanctions jeopardize Bobby Bowden's wins record [SI]