WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. -- "But, anyway, down at the Foot Locker . . ."
This isn't Lou Holtz or Steve Spurrier taking a potshot at Florida State, the latest crisis zone in college athletics. It's Bobby Bowden himself using gallows humor and his down-home charm in an attempt to defuse what is, thanks to Tonya Harding, America's second-biggest sporting scandal of 1994.
After 28 years as a head coach and 239 victories, Bowden nailed down his first national championship, but a year that began in celebration has become one of explanation. The agent-shepherded shopping spree at a Tallahassee mall, the apparently illegal summer jobs, the player arrests for sexual improprieties? What was Bowden to do?
"It ain't like we shot somebody or robbed a store or killed somebody," Bowden said at the Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff last weekend. "Sports Illustrated wants to tie us into it and say we should know about it. . . . I feel like it's been run into the ground. . . . If we hadn't of won the national championship, no one ever would've heard of Foot Locker."
Are Florida State's troubles just an example, as Bowden says, of the media's attacking the guy on top, or evidence of a program that is as out of control as Oklahoma's was in 1987? Regardless of the resolution of the Florida State scandal, Bowden's image as one of the good guys in college football has taken a beating in recent months.
* Sports Illustrated's cover story on May 16 detailed the extent to which unscrupulous agents curried favor with some Florida State players.
Last Nov. 7, the day after the Seminoles beat Maryland at Byrd Stadium and six days before their only 1993 loss, at Notre Dame, at least seven players were taken to the Foot Locker at a Tallahassee mall. They walked out with approximately $6,000 worth of jackets, shoes and hats, and the bill was put on the credit card of a Las Vegas businessman, according to the story.
* The week after the SI expose, place-kicker Scott Bentley, the cover boy on the magazine's 1993 college football preview, pleaded no contest to charges that he illegally tape-recorded an act of sexual intercourse with a student from Florida A&M;, another Tallahassee college.
Within days, leading rusher Sean Jackson and reserve tight end Kamari Charlton were arrested and charged with indecent exposure and sexual battery, respectively.
* A Sports Illustrated story in the June 6 issue detailed claims that two former Florida State players received pay for summer jobs they never showed up for at a veterinary clinic outside Jacksonville.
* Anticipated charges by the NCAA of a lack of institutional control seemed even more likely last week, when Florida State athletic director Bob Goin was placed on paid leave after reports that he received $18,000 worth of gifts and travel from boosters in the past three years and that he used his position to benefit members of his family.
After the report of November's shopping spree, the Florida State administration hired Mike Glazier, a former NCAA investigator whose legal practice specializes in discovering all of the dirt at scandal-ridden college athletic programs.
The NCAA usually accepts Glazier's findings as accurate. The results of his investigation are expected to be released this week.
At a time when Florida State figured to be cashing in on its national championship, the cleaning bill -- including legal fees and revenue lost if the NCAA places it on probation that keeps the Seminoles out of bowls and off television -- for this mess could exceed $2 million.
It's not the kind of attention the ACC expected when it brought in Florida State, which figures to win at least 10 games for the eighth straight year in 1994. Sentiment within the conference, however, is that abuses by agents and boosters are possible just about anywhere.
"What's going on there could happen to any of us," Maryland coach Mark Duffner said. "Just like Florida State, we don't always know who's contacting our players."
North Carolina State coach Mike O'Cain said: "The only way you can stop it is to have 24-hour surveillance of the players."
Gene Corrigan, commissioner of the ACC, said heading off illegal benefits isn't a new concern.
"When I was at Notre Dame and Virginia [as athletic director], I used to worry about this all the time," Corrigan said. "Ralph Sampson had to move into Terry Holland's house to live so people couldn't find him."
Corrigan said that the ACC, unlike the Pac-10 and its XTC involvement in a similar case involving Washington last year, probably will leave the punishment of Florida State up to the NCAA. The Pac-10 penalized Washington with a two-year bowl ban and one-year loss of TV revenue.
Several of the players involved in the Foot Locker incident gave up their remaining eligibility. Acting on Bowden's recommendations, Florida State president Sandy D'Alemberte is expected to announce the suspensions of two to five players this week. Bentley has been on indefinite suspension, but Bowden hinted that he won't be sitting out the entire season.