In a small sampling of college football media, 27 of 33 Heisman Trophy voters say they would consider Jameis Winston for the award even if the sexual assault case involving the Florida State quarterback is unresolved before they vote.
Winston has not been charged, and prosecutors said Tuesday they likely will need about two more weeks to decide whether to bring charges on the nearly year-old complaint.
The deadline for Heisman voting is Dec. 9, with the winner announced Dec. 14 in New York. Winston has led No. 2 Florida State to an unbeaten record and is considered the favorite.
The AP emailed 92 media members who cover college football, including all 60 of its Top 25 college football poll voters, this question Wednesday:
“If there is no resolution in the criminal investigation involving Jameis Winston before the deadline for Heisman Trophy voting, would you drop him from consideration because of the current allegations against him? Yes or no?”
Thirty-three responded in the unscientific survey. Twenty-seven said no — they would not remove Winston from consideration for college football’s most prestigious individual award.
There will be 928 Heisman voters this year. The AP sample represented 3.6 percent of the total.
“It is innocent till proven guilty right?” said Bruce Feldman of CBS.com. “Do people think the Heisman Trophy is more important than that?”
Four voters said they would drop Winston from consideration even if there was no resolution. Two Heisman voters said they could not make up their minds.
“This is a conundrum as a voter that is a can’t-win situation. On one hand, I want to give Winston the benefit of the doubt and if he’s the best player in college football, then he should get it,” said John Silver of the Journal Inquirer of Connecticut. “But, character matters, and imagine the thought of Winston at the Heisman Ceremony with a sex charge awaiting him when he gets back to Tallahassee? That’s a disaster for the Heisman and college football.”
The Heisman Trust does not specifically preclude a player from being considered for off-the-field issues, but its mission statement does twice use the word “integrity.”
“Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. The Heisman Trophy Trust ensures the continuation and integrity of this award, “ it states.
Winston’s legal issues and their impact on the Heisman race are unique, but still reminiscent of Cam Newton’s 2010 Heisman run that was clouded by an NCAA investigation into his recruitment.
Ultimately, Newton and Auburn were cleared by the NCAA of wrongdoing during the week before the SEC championship game. The NCAA determined Newton’s father had asked recruiters for money for his son to attend Mississippi State.
Newton won the Heisman going away, and went on to lead the Tigers to a victory in the BCS championship game against Oregon.
The Heisman Trust vacated Reggie Bush’s 2005 Heisman victory after it was determined years later that he had broken NCAA rules during the season he won the award for Southern California.
The Heisman Trust has never asked another player to return his trophy.