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Florida State Answers Report Alleging Academic Favoritism

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by Joe Reedy, Associated Press


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State University once again finds itself answering allegations of academic fraud involving its football program.

The New York Times on Friday reported that six players on the 2013 National Championship team received special treatment in online courses. The university said in an email to The Associated Press that an independent investigation found no wrongdoing.

“Florida State University retained a leading law firm with a highly experienced collegiate sports practice to conduct an independent investigation of the course in question,” said university spokeswoman Amy Farnum-Patronis. “After a thorough examination of the facts, no NCAA violations were found. The course was subsequently modified for other reasons.”

The case is a major part of Mike McIntire’s book “Champions Way: Football, Florida, and the Lost Soul of College Sports,” which will be released on Tuesday.

Christina Suggs, a former teaching assistant and doctoral student, said in the book that she felt extra pressure to give breaks to student-athletes taking hospitality courses on coffee, tea and wine. Suggs provided evidence to the Florida State inspector general in August of 2013 before the case was taken over by university attorneys.

Suggs said she was pressured to raise the grade of former running back James Wilder Jr. McIntire also reported that Wilder and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin plagiarized parts of a final project. Wilder was the most valuable player in the 2013 ACC Championship game, while Benjamin caught the winning touchdown pass in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game win over Auburn a month later.

Suggs’ contract was not renewed toward the end of 2013. She left the school and died accidentally from a toxic combination of prescription medicines following back surgery less than a year later. She was 48.

  Perspectives: Bridging the Research-Practice Gap

The university has been at the center of academic allegations before. The football program had 12 victories vacated in 2006 and ‘07 due to cheating in an online music course involving 61 student-athletes in 10 sports. The vacated wins meant that Bobby Bowden did not retire as the winningest coach in Division I history.

It is also not the first time the 2013 team has been under scrutiny. Quarterback Jameis Winston was accused of raping a student but was never charged. The university settled a Title IX lawsuit over its handling of the allegations with Winston’s accuser, Erica Kinsman, in January 2016 for $1.7 million.

The University of North Carolina is currently under an NCAA investigation involving African Studies courses.

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