Florida State has faced one problem after another since starting the season ranked No. 3.
Now, on the verge of putting a forgettable season behind them, there are questions whether the Seminoles are actually bowl eligible.
Florida State will play Southern Mississippi in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Wednesday. But a possible administrative error, apparently discovered by a user of the website Reddit, called into question whether the Seminoles’ victory against Delaware State should count toward the NCAA’s bowl-eligibility requirement.
As of Friday afternoon, no one was talking — not Florida State, Delaware State, the Atlantic Coast Conference or the NCAA had responded to requests for comment.
“We are continuing preparations for our game between Southern Miss and Florida State,” Walk-on’s Independence Bowl spokesman Stefan Nolet told The Associated Press in an email.
The NCAA has a waiver process for bowl eligibility and an issue like this could have been sorted out, likely in the Seminoles favor, had it been discovered sooner.
Instead, it’s just the latest bad news for Florida State.
The Seminoles lost their high-profile opener to Alabama and their quarterback in week one, had two games postponed by severe weather, stumbled to a 2-5 start, needed to play Louisiana-Monroe on championship weekend to have a chance to get bowl eligible and did so a day after former coach Jimbo Fisher left the program to take the Texas A&M job.
Scrambling to finish 6-6 allowed the Seminoles to extend their record streak of consecutive years with a bowl appearance to 36. Or did it? The bowl game is still on but even that has come with a catch.
A fan who moderates the college football section of Reddit posted data he claimed to have obtained from Delaware State that apparently showed the team didn’t use enough scholarship funds to meet an NCAA minimum for FCS teams to count toward FBS bowl eligibility.
Delaware State, which lost 77-6 at Florida State on Nov. 18, was about two players short of meeting the minimum, according to the post.
The fan, an applied scientist from the San Francisco Bay Area who uses the nickname bakonydraco on Reddit, said fans in the community have studied bowl-eligibility rules the past two seasons as bowl organizers have struggled to fill games with teams that meet the six-win minimum. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because he did not want his real-life details connected with his online identity.
He said the request process took several weeks and the moderators spent significant time analyzing the data, understanding the complexity of the rules and their implications.
The number of FBS vs. FCS games has skyrocketed since the NCAA approved 12-game schedules for major college teams in 2005. As the number of bowls also grew, the NCAA allowed FBS teams to count a victory against an FCS team toward six-win bowl eligibility if that FCS team had used 90 percent of its allotted scholarship money. The idea behind the rule was to deter FBS schools from playing FCS schools that had no chance to compete with an FBS school. In reality, though, most FBS-FCS games are lopsided contests.
Game contracts between FBS and FCS schools often stipulate that the FCS team meets the scholarship requirement. But, typically, that is a good faith agreement.
Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen said when he was AD at FCS power Northern Iowa that requirement was in every contract it had with an FBS school. He said only Wisconsin asked for verification of the numbers and that was done with a simple letter stating UNI was in compliance.
“They trusted the numbers we gave them,” Dannen said.
This season, Tulane played Grambling State of the FCS and the scholarship requirement was in the contract. Dannen said Tulane did not ask Grambling for detailed documentation showing it met the scholarship requirement. Maybe that won’t be the case going forward.
“This is a good example of you can’t assume compliance,” he said.
Dannen once was part of an NCAA committee that heard waiver requests dealing with bowl eligibility. That committee no longer exists after NCAA restructuring, but there is still a waiver process.
“I have no doubt a waiver would have been granted” to Florida State, Dannen said.
After the Independence Bowl, Florida State and its fans can fully move on to a new era under coach Willie Taggart, who said this week, “It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish. We’re going to finish strong.”
Just finishing the 2017 season — period — will likely be a relief to Florida State fans.