Football Favoritism at F.S.U.: The Price One Teacher Paid

Even so, two things are certain: By the end of 2013, Florida State had tightened standards for the online hospitality courses. And Ms. Suggs had lost her job and left the school.

The story of Ms. Suggs’s experience trying to hold athletes to the same standards as other students, pieced together from emails, other documents and interviews, came to light during research for a forthcoming book, “Champions Way: Football, Florida, and the Lost Soul of College Sports” (W. W. Norton). It offers a case study of how academic and legal imperatives often collide with the pressures of big-time college sports, at a time when academic fraud and sexual assault scandals are roiling campuses across the country, from Baylor University in Texas to the University of Mississippi.

Florida State was the focus of reporting by The New York Times in 2014 that examined the mishandling of criminal allegations against members of the championship football team, including Mr. Winston.

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.”

Photo

Former Florida State players Chris Casher, left, and James Wilder Jr.

Credit
From left: Joe Robbins/Getty Images; Don Juan Moore, via Associated Press

Friends of Ms. Suggs said she was painfully aware of the stakes involved in filing her complaint, including the possibility that athletes found in violation of…

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