Florida State has faced one problem after another since starting the season ranked No. 3.
The latest twist in a strange and disappointing season for the Seminoles came Friday when it was forced to defend its bowl eligibility after it had been called into question by fan-led investigation posted on the website Reddit.
Florida State released a statement saying Delaware State did meet NCAA requirements that allow the Seminoles to count their victory against the FCS team toward bowl eligibility.
Florida State (6-6) plays Southern Mississippi in the Independence Bowl on Wednesday in Shreveport, Louisiana, extending its streak of bowl appearances to a record 36 straight seasons.
Questions about whether the Seminoles had indeed reached six countable wins were raised by Reddit users who analyzed data on Delaware State’s athletic scholarships. The analysis posted Thursday seemed to show Delaware State had failed use 90 percent of its football scholarship funds, which is required for an FCS team to be countable toward FBS bowl eligibility.
Neither school nor the NCAA commented on the Reddit report for more than 24 hours until Florida State’s short response:
“Florida State has received confirmation from Delaware State that the 90 percent requirement is satisfied for the 2017 season, allowing the victory to be used in determining bowl eligibility.
Media reports suggesting otherwise failed to account for a long-standing NCAA rules interpretation that permits institutions to use academic scholarships and other forms of non-athletics institutional aid received by student-athletes in the computation of this requirement. These media reports represent incomplete information, as they only reflect athletics scholarships received.”
Despite the confusion, Florida State playing in the Independence Bowl was never in doubt. It was way too late for Florida State to be removed from the game, especially over what would have amounted to an administrative error Delaware State. Also, it has not been uncommon for the NCAA to grant waivers to allow teams to play in bowl games when standard requirements have not been met.
The Independence Bowl will concluded maybe the worst football season Florida State has had since Hall of Fame coach Bobby Bowden went 5-6 in 1976, his first year in Tallahassee.
The Seminoles lost their high-profile opener to Alabama and quarterback Deondre Francois to a season-ending knee injury in week one, had two games postponed by severe weather, stumbled to a 2-5 start, needed to play Louisiana-Monroe at home 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 bowl streak, but the Seminoles couldn’t even leave for Shreveport before one more issue arose.
Delaware State, which lost 77-6 at Florida State on Nov. 18, seemed to be about two players short of meeting the minimum, according to the Reddit post.
The Reddit user, an applied scientist from the San Francisco Bay Area who uses the nickname bakonydraco on the website, 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, trying to understand the complexity of the rules and their implications.
Game contracts between FBS and FCS schools often stipulate 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.
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 about the early signing period: “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.