Despite the distractions, Winston plans to play against Notre Dame

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Amidst a university disciplinary hearing and two damning media reports from Fox Sports and the New York Times, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has no intention of doing anything but playing football next weekend.

The returning Heisman Trophy winner might have storm clouds surrounding him, but he says he’ll be on the field in Doak Campbell Stadium next weekend.

“Of course,” Winston responded when asked about playing in Saturday’s showdown.

That decision could fly in the face of the best legal advice, with Winston’s disciplinary hearing at the university potentially opening him back up to charges for an alleged rape. Sports Illustrated legal writer Michael McCann lays out a pretty compelling argument for Winston dropping out of FSU all together.

Winston’s participation in the university’s disciplinary process would carry great legal risk for him. A university disciplinary hearing would involve both fact-finding and testimony. Law enforcement or attorneys for Winston’s accuser could later attempt to subpoena these materials and use them against Winston. While a finding that Winston violated university rules would not mean that he broke any laws, the finding would likely be admissible evidence in a prosecution or civil litigation.

As noted above, Winston could still face criminal charges until 2017. Winston was only investigated for criminal conduct and not tried, meaning the Double Jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment does not protect him from being charged and tried. Winston thus has an incentive to prevent any new facts or testimony from emerging that might persuade a prosecutor or a grand jury to take a second look at what happened.

Winston played the entire 2013 season with the accusation pending, though the state attorney’s office deciding not to press charges. State Attorney Willie Meggs talked about the broken legal process with Fox Sports, a damning critique of the Tallahassee Police Department as well as Florida State’s administration and police department, who seemingly prioritized protecting Winston more than the truth.

That’s not all that seems to be trailing Winston. Just days after Todd Gurley was taken off the field for allegedly accepting money and other improper benefits for signatures, the same memorabilia collector that had hundreds of Gurley items on sale also had over 100 on sale from Winston.

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Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher defended Winston when asked about the memorabilia in question.

“Kids sign things all the time,” Fisher told ESPN. “So what do you want them to do, stop signing stuff? We could make them not have any fans from that standpoint and not sign for anybody. That’s what it’s going to come to, and that’s a shame for college football that we can’t take a kid, somebody exploits a kid. Now, if they’re getting paid for it, then I don’t have any knowledge of that. I don’t believe Jameis did.”

That Fisher takes such a pollyanna approach to the behavior of his star quarterback is hardly surprising. It was Fisher who decided to suspend Winston for a half of football after the quarterback shouted an obscene, sexual profanity from a table top inside the student union, only to have the university extend the suspension to a full game. Add that to the heisted crab legs and multiple legal tussles after pellet-gun incidents and Fisher has backed himself into a corner with his star quarterback.

Through half a season, Winston hasn’t played like a Heisman Trophy winner. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder is still a dangerous weapon with both his arm and legs, but after completing nearly 67 percent of his passes for 40 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions, Winston has thrown just 11 touchdowns so far this season with five interceptions, though he is completing 70 percent of his attempts.

But even as chaos envelopes Winston, he’s hitting his stride on the field. He completed 30 of 36 passes for 317 yards against Syracuse, throwing for three touchdowns in a 38-20 victory. All that leading to the biggest game on the Seminoles’ calendar.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Winston said. “It’s finally here. You can’t say that we’re taking it day-by-day, so it’s finally here. Notre Dame has a great football team, but we’re still Florida State, we’re not looking to lose.”