Let’s stipulate by saying that the investigation of an alleged sexual battery trumps such trivial matters as football games and trophies. If Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is charged with a felony – and esteemed former colleague Mark Schlabach of ESPN reports that DNA links Winston to his accuser – he’ll be suspended pending disposition of the case. As Patrick Nohe of the Miami Herald has written, that’s part of FSU’s conduct policy.
But here – again we stress that this football stuff is, in the grand scheme, but a trifle – we come to a key sports-related question: Should Winston be charged, would the human pollsters who make up two-thirds of the BCS selection process view Florida State the same way? Without their quarterback, would the Seminoles still be considered the second-best team in the land? (As Nohe notes, FSU’s No. 2 quarterback has been lost to knee surgery; that would leave only a redshirt freshman.)
A rush to legal judgment is never prudent. The BCS, however, has its own clock. The title pairing will be set Dec. 8, which is 2 ½ weeks away. If Winston is charged before then, would Florida State drop from No. 2 in the rankings even if it finishes undefeated – it plays Florida on Nov. 30 and will face someone in the ACC championship game on Dec. 7 -- and be shut out of the BCS title tilt? But what if Winston is charged after Dec. 8, after Florida State has been handed its invitation to Pasadena? Wouldn’t that be worse?
Without its best player, Florida State probably wouldn’t belong in a game matching No. 1 against No. 2. Would the BCS rescind the Seminoles’ invitation? Keep in mind that this would almost certainly involve breaching a contract. Would FSU fight such a breach? Could an institution of higher learning in these post-Sandusky days be seen as valuing an athletic prize over propriety?
Already the heavy hand of Southern football has apparently been brought to bear. According to Matt Baker and Tia Mitchell of the Tampa Bay Times, the accuser’s family says they were told by a detective that her “life will be made miserable” if she pursued the case because “Tallahassee is a big football town.” (The accuser has since moved out of state, the Herald reports.)
This isn’t to say that Winston will or should be prosecuted. He's entitled to the presumption of innocence. The reported assault occurred on Dec. 7, 2012. Winston is not named in the report. Eleven months passed without much in the way of investigation. The initial description of the attacker didn’t fit Winston, whose attorney has denied the allegation. (Winston hasn't yet spoken to police.) But now comes word of the DNA match. Would that be enough for a charge to be brought?
These aren't the questions anybody wanted to be asking. It was much more fun to wonder if Florida State might finally be the team to take down Alabama. But real life, as we're repeatedly reminded, isn't always fun. Real life can be really awful.
Roy Simmons visited such quiet, dark, lonely depths that you had to wonder if he ever saw blue sky. Only pages into the book he wrote in 2006 — “Out of Bounds: Coming out of Sexual Abuse, Addiction and My Life of Lies in the NFL Closet” — he took the reader to the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge.