Reddit user details his investigation into Florida State's bowl eligibility

By CAMAL PETRO,

Florida State became bowl eligible for the 36th consecutive year this season and is scheduled to play Southern Miss in the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl on Dec. 27. But, are the Seminoles really bowl eligible?

A Reddit user brought FSU’s eligibility into question Thursday with a report saying one of its wins didn’t meet the NCAA requirements to become bowl eligible. Sure, the Seminoles have six wins, which is common knowledge to meet the NCAA obligation to play in a bowl game, but they almost didn’t play their 12th and final game against Louisiana-Monroe.

When Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc in Florida, FSU canceled its Week 2 game against UL-Monroe. It was later rescheduled the week of conference championship games in hopes of getting the elusive sixth win and play in its 36th straight bowl game. It won the game soundly and received an invitation to play Southern Miss in Shreveport.

There are instances where 5-7 teams, or in FSU’s case if it wouldn’t have rescheduled the ULM game, 5-6 teams can play in a bowl game. Mississippi State, for example, played in one last season with a 5-7 record. That’s when the Academic Progress Rate (APR) comes into play. Based on rankings, if there aren’t enough 6-win teams to play in bowl games, a 5-7 team with a high APR would play.

Florida State isn’t exactly at the top of that list.

So, what’s the issue? Well, Florida State had Delaware State on its schedule, an FCS program that plays in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. For reference, that’s the same conference Savannah State, a 2016 Southern Miss opponent, plays in. Now, it’s not a big deal for FBS programs such as FSU to play teams in the FCS, but there are stipulations on the game counting toward bowl eligibility.

For an example, when an FBS program plays two FCS teams in one season, only one can count toward bowl eligibility. Another rule might have bit Florida State.

Reddit user, bakonydraco, who didn’t want to be referred by his real name, broke the story Thursday afternoon. Bakonydraco, Draco for short, doesn’t have any connection to Florida State. He’s a Stanford graduate and wouldn’t give any more information other than following college football is one of his hobbies.

“For me, personally, college football is a casual hobby,” he said exclusively to PineBeltSPORTS during a Friday morning phone interview. “I enjoyed following it in college, and I think kind of the part in having the identity for the username, it takes away an ego in a way. It’s a representation and this is my interest in college football on an online forum.”

Draco made it clear – he is not a journalist. Throughout the season he gathers information on teams throughout the country. He said he never had this particular angle, and it turned into something bigger than he expected.

“One of the things that’s been interesting,” he said, “the last two years there weren’t enough eligible teams. The NCAA rules for a 5-7 team to go bowling is through the Academic Progress Rate. The last few years we’ve had a few instances to keep track of. You have to keep track of both the academics and the football team’s performance to try and figure out who might be going bowling.

“It’s really a complicated matter.”

He started digging more into which teams might become bowl eligible through the APR loophole in November. Consequently, Florida State played Delaware State in November, and the Seminoles had to win their final three games to get to six wins.

Florida State was 5-6 against FBS competition, and normally the FCS exception comes into play if the win meets certain requirements. That was Draco’s big breakthrough.

FCS programs have to have at least 90 percent of its players on full grant-in-aid over a two-year period. Not just partial aid. According to Draco's research, Delaware State did not meet that threshold. According to data Draco received from Delaware State, the football program has “87 percent of the permissible maximum number of 63,” he wrote in his report.

Florida State released a statement Friday night saying, "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. Florida State departs Saturday for the Walk-On's Independence Bowl, marking the Seminoles' 36th consecutive postseason appearance." 

Draco contacted Delaware State following its game with the Seminoles. He didn’t have reason to believe the trail he was about to take would lead to uncovering a “monumental error,” as a bowl-industry source told college football reporter Brett McMurphy, who reported following Draco’s report.

“Florida State is kind of a perfect storm,” he said. “They’re playing a team from the MEAC, which the whole conference has been having financial troubles, and Florida State’s path to a bowl this year has been so chaotic. If there was even a remote chance that this could be true, it could have an impact.

“I think from Florida State’s perspective, they really didn’t have a reason to look into this. This game is 100 percent countable for NCAA stats purposes and their official record, and the 77-6 win is the biggest margin in the program’s history. That’s in the books. The only thing it’s uncountable for is bowl eligibility.”

Florida State was ranked in the Top 5 entering the season and had College Football Playoff aspirations, so it’s not unreasonable to think anybody in the Florida State athletic office didn’t think to check Delaware State’s scholarship situation, Draco joked.

“I don’t think that entered a conversation anywhere because it was so far out of expectations,” Draco said.  

Delaware State was also going through a massive change in its athletic department during the time Draco reached out for the information. Following the loss to Florida State, DSU changed athletics directors and announced the football coach’s contract wouldn’t be extended when it ends Jan. 31, 2018.

Draco said it took some persistence to get the data, but DSU worked with him and confirmed his information. DSU confirmed Draco’s data for release Wednesday after nearly a month.

“It was a little hard sitting on what could have been a big story, but given the gravity of this, we didn’t want to shoot off something that was half cooked,”  he said. “We really wanted to make sure we had the information absolutely accurate and cleared responsibly before proceeding.”

Regardless of if this investigation were for Florida State, Alabama or Ole Miss, Draco would have still put the report out there. He has no ill will toward FSU.

“At the end of the day, it is a game, but the NCAA sets rules for a reason,” Draco said. “A move toward at least everyone being on equal footing and having an understanding what the rules are is probably beneficial for everyone.”

So, whose fault is it? Whether it’s Florida State or the NCAA, nothing can be done now. The game will be played as scheduled, and both FSU and Southern Miss arrive in Shreveport on Wednesday, Dec. 23. Publications such as the New York Post, Washington Post and Sports Illustrated have followed up on Draco’s report, and they’ve confirmed the report to be accurate.

“I really don’t think it’s my position to move that forward,” Draco said. “I really just kind of wanted to surface the facts, and I think now it’s more in their wheelhouse. It’s probably appropriate for them now. …

“To see major media confirm that this was something that everybody missed, that was kind of validating.”

The University of Buffalo is just one example of a team feeling the impact of this error. Buffalo had six wins and were left out of the bowl season. Buffalo opens the 2018 season with Delaware State, too.

Draco wants it known he doesn’t think any party acted in bad faith, and it’s as simple as an oversight. He shut down any conspiracy theories.

“It is kind of an obscure rule and people try their best to follow it,” he said. “The fault here is perhaps not quite doing due diligence. It doesn’t seem like there’s any evidence that anybody deliberately did anything wrong.”

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