Florida State: No evidence of fraud found in online course that football players took

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Florida State responded to a book excerpt in the New York Times on Friday and said no evidence of academic fraud was found in an online course that was taken by some football players on the 2013 title-winning Seminoles team.

An article published Friday morning cited the circumstances of a now-deceased teaching assistant as evidence that football players enrolled in an online hospitality class were given preferential treatment.

The class the players were in occurred in the spring of 2013. That fall, Florida State made changes to some of its online classes. It said Friday that the changes had nothing to do with allegations of preferential treatment reported by teaching assistant Christina Suggs.

“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,” a spokesperson said in a statement provided to the Associated Press. “After a thorough examination of the facts, no NCAA violations were found. The course was subsequently modified for other reasons.”

The Times article outlined instances where Suggs felt she was pressured by a professor in the department to give preferential treatment to football players who were doing inadequate work.

One of the players involved in Ms. Suggs’s complaint was James Wilder Jr., who had been arrested three times in the previous year and was on track to get, at best, a grade of D in one course. He emailed his professor as the summer semester was ending to say he needed a B “to keep myself in good academic place with the school.” The professor, Mark Bonn, who ran the hospitality courses, instructed Ms. Suggs to work with Mr. Wilder — he referred to him as “a starting star running back,” before noting that all students should be treated equally — and give him a chance to make up past assignments and submit missing portions of his final project, even though it had already been graded.

Ms. Suggs wrote that Mr. Wilder “should have done the work like everyone else” and objected to granting him special treatment, telling a colleague, “I am not offering this opportunity to other students.” The colleague agreed, summing up their mutual concern about Professor Bonn: “Trying to put a stop to his favoritism for athletes once and for all.”

Wilder was allowed to turn his final project in after a revised deadline was given to him when he missed the first one. The grade he was given was not detailed in the article.

The article also cites instances where players on the football team, including defensive end Chris Casher and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, didn’t properly cite sources on their work.

Florida State dealt with academic fraud allegations regarding the football team 10 years ago. Twenty-three players missed the 2007 Music City Bowl because of academic issues. The team ended up vacating wins from 2006 and 2007 as part of the NCAA investigation into the program and cheating in an online music course.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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