TALLAHASSEE — The second-ranked Florida State Seminoles put a historic 80-14 beating on Idaho on Saturday, but the most important player in Tallahassee was nowhere to be found during the postgame press conference.
Quarterback Jameis Winston was there after getting a standing ovation and signing autographs and leaving the field amid euphoric chants of "Ja-meis! Ja-meis! Ja-meis!"
Coach Jimbo Fisher was there after coaching his powerhouse team to more points than Florida State has scored in the 66-year history of the program, and he was even gracious enough to give embattled University of Florida coach Will Muschamp a vote of confidence.
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But Willie Meggs, the key player to FSU's future football fortunes, was not there.
Probably for good reason.
This, after all, was the winner's postgame press conference, and Meggs is going to be a big loser.
No matter what.
You see, no matter what Meggs — the state attorney in Tallahassee — decides in the next few days, he cannot win.
He cannot win if he charges Winston with sexual assault, and he cannot win if he doesn't.
First and foremost, a young woman's reputation and a young man's future rest upon his decision. And in the less-important, more-publicized sports world, Meggs has become the center of the college football universe. In the coming days, Meggs might very well decide who wins the Heisman Trophy and who plays for the national championship.
If he charges Winston with sexual assault, the quarterback would be ineligible to play for the Seminoles per university policy. Consequently, Winston would go from Heisman frontrunner to Heisman castaway, and FSU's chances of playing for the national championship would be in serious jeopardy. There's a strong possibility that poll voters would rightfully reason the Seminoles are not one of the top two teams in the country without Winston quarterbacking them.
The media was instructed after Saturday's game to ask only football-related questions to Winston and Fisher, which isn't exactly what ESPN reporter Mark Schwarz and his camera crew had in mind. Schwarz and other media members were forced to ask carefully worded questions about the "distractions."
"The football field is a sanctuary," Winston said. "It's like that for all of us. When we're out there on that field, everything else is zoned out and we're focused on getting a victory."
Whether or not this incredible season continues depends upon Meggs, who has lived his entire life in Tallahassee. Criminal charges against Winston would make Meggs the most unpopular man in his hometown since Steve Spurrier coached the Gators. And if he doesn't press charges, there will be those who point to his FSU law degree and accuse him of being just another jock-sniffing law enforcement official in a college football town.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. FSU fans and coaches have claimed for years that Meggs is overly tough on FSU athletes. Meggs has a reputation for being fearless when it comes to prosecuting athletes, politicians — anybody and everybody whom he feels he has a case against.
If he does bring charges, Meggs knows it will be incredibly hard to convict a famous athlete like Winston — especially in Tallahassee. Meggs told me once that getting a conviction on an athlete or former athlete is much tougher than getting a conviction on the average citizen.
"I don't know the statistics, but when you look around the country it sure seems to be harder to convict athletes," said Meggs, who has tried several Florida State football players and has mostly been unsuccessful.
When I asked Meggs why athletes seem to get off at a much higher rate than the average person, he answered the question with a question. "Why do we pay the president less than a million dollars a year, but we pay $13 million a year to a baseball player who hits .333 and fails to get a hit two-thirds of a time?"
Statistics do, in fact, show that athletes are convicted at a much lower rate than the national average. According to a USA Today study during the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case, 66 percent of the general population is convicted when charged with sexual assault, whereas 67 percent of prominent athletes are exonerated when charged with sexual assault.
Now you see what Meggs is up against.
Even more than Idaho on Saturday, he is in a no-win situation in Tallahassee.
William "Willie" Meggs, a former high school football official, is about to make the most controversial judgment call of his illustrious career.
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