Florida State continues enabling of Jameis Winston with half-baked punishment

Pat Forde

And now, being a serial knucklehead finally has a price for Famous Jameis.

Florida State’s decision to suspend star quarterback Jameis Winston for a half against Clemson Saturday is the first football playing time he will miss at the school for disciplinary reasons. The cumulative effect of the Heisman Trophy winner’s recurring judgment lapses finally became too much for the school to overlook, brush aside or peddle off to the baseball team.

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It is, frankly, about time. But it’s not enough time.

The Tomahawk-Chopping zealots who have blindly defended Winston through an assortment of situations grave and picayune will say it’s too much. They will say he’s just a college kid, unfairly persecuted, under an unreasonable microscope – still paying for a false accusation that yielded no charges last year. But they’ll complain mostly because, by Osceola, this is a big game. The opponent is Clemson, an Atlantic Coast Conference rival capable of handing the Seminoles their first loss since 2012.

More than anything, they want Winston to play for the first three letters in his surname. Just win, Jameis.

Almost everyone outside the Tallahassee bubble will say the suspension is too light. They’ll call it a half-baked idea, a half-step toward actually getting Winston to get a clue and alter his behavior. They’ll say that a school with real commitment to the high-minded ideals colleges love to espouse would sit the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner for a full game.

Jameis Winston talks to the media during a press conference. (AP)
Jameis Winston talks to the media during a press conference. (AP)

I side with the latter camp. Half-game suspensions are, in general, a copout. Lou Holtz sat three players for the 1978 Orange Bowl when he was the coach at Arkansas – including his top two running backs. He did the same thing at Notre Dame when he suspended running backs Ricky Watters and Tony Brooks for a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown against USC in 1988.

In both cases, Holtz risked defeat in a huge game. In both cases, his teams won. In both cases, the coach came out doubly victorious.

Florida State is risking defeat against Clemson – a defeat that could be a season-killer in terms of making the College Football Playoff and defending its national championship. In comparison to other top teams, a 12-1 Atlantic Coast Conference champion may not win many beauty contests, given the relative mediocrity of the league.

(We will have to see whether the CFP selection committee would take into account missed playing time for a key player, as the NCAA tournament basketball committee sometimes does. Gina Lehe, spokesperson for the CFP, told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday that the committee has had preliminary discussions that centered more on the effect of injuries than disciplinary suspensions. "The committee will look at the full body of work [for a team], and all factors that went into that body of work," Lehe said.)

[Also from Pat Forde: Jameis Winston's latest blunder shows he still needs to grow up]

But the school is not risking it to the point of benching Winston entirely Saturday. Let’s not get too crazy with the discipline, OK? The Seminoles can make a second-half comeback with Winston if needed, but they can’t get a do-over of a game he misses entirely.

Frankly, I’m surprised Florida State acted at all with Clemson coming to town. It runs counter to what we’ve come to expect.

The FSU athletic department has been has been hyper-protective of Winston since the news broke last fall that he was under investigation for alleged sexual assault of a female student. They didn’t keep him from the media, but every news conference became a dance of denial – if reporters tried to ask a non-football question, they were quickly shot down. Even questions about the investigation to coach Jimbo Fisher were off-limits.

That was the case again Wednesday in Tallahassee, when Winston made an apology for the obscene shouting Tuesday that led to his half-game suspension. According to reports, three questions about the episode were shot down, the last query ending the news conference after nine minutes.

Of course, the timorous Florida State local media censored itself Tuesday by failing to even ask Fisher about an event that was significant enough to warrant a suspension the next day. With reporters like that on the beat, it’s been relatively easy to keep the cocoon secure around the franchise quarterback.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston jokes with the media. (AP)
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston jokes with the media. (AP)

The fact that interim Florida State president Garnett Stokes has her name on the university release announcing Winston’s punishment hints the academic side of campus has reached its saturation point with embarrassments related to its quarterback. Maybe it has to do with the fact that a Title IX investigation of Winston continues in relation to the December 2012 sexual encounter that did not result in criminal charges. Maybe it has to do with the fact the school is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for the way it has handled reports of sexual assault.

Or maybe the administration simply read the sports page recently. Football players have poisoned the climate around their sport to such a degree that Winston’s student union hijinks are atrocious timing for more than one reason – it’s the week of a big game and it’s a time in which star NFL players are proliferating an image of domestic thugs and misogynist bullies.

Of all times for a football player to yell out a lewd comment about sex with a woman, this would be the worst. And Jameis Winston would be among the worst football players to do it. That’s begging for backlash from those at FSU who don’t live and die with the fortunes of the football team.

So due to climate and the cumulative effect of Winston brushfires, Florida State may have felt like it had to do something. But it still stopped short of fully doing the right thing.

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