By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Reuters) - A school conduct code hearing looking into rape allegations against Florida State University star quarterback Jameis Winston entered a second day on Wednesday in a crucial week for one of America's highest profile athletes.
The 20-year-old sophomore, the top U.S. college football player last year after winning the Heisman Trophy, competes on Saturday in a conference title game that could decide whether the Florida State Seminoles advance to the sport's first collegiate playoffs.
Yet Winston's off-field behavior is under intense scrutiny as a former Florida Supreme Court justice hears testimony in a twice-delayed student disciplinary proceeding into allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman two years ago.
Winston was not charged criminally in the December 2012 incident, which he has maintained was consensual. A Florida state attorney last year found insufficient evidence for charges.
He could receive punishments ranging from a reprimand to expulsion in the university proceedings. Winston faces four conduct code charges, two of sexual misconduct and two of endangerment.
The quarterback on Tuesday dodged questions from reporters who were staking out the closed-door hearing.
“We think this nightmare will be over very soon,” attorney David Cornwell told reporters late on Tuesday, as he escorted Winston from the hearing room.
The female accuser, who no longer attends FSU, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, which is investigating the university under Title IX, which requires colleges receiving federal funds to promptly investigate complaints of sexual abuse.
Her attorney told reporters that the first day of the hearing was empowering for the woman, whose complaints languished before receiving national media attention.
“I think there are so many women that have been victims of athlete violence around the country that have had to deal with their cases being swept under the rug,” attorney John Clune told reporters on Tuesday. “This certainly at one point seemed to be one of them."
The woman testified in a separate room from Winston, he said.
After the hearing, Winston practiced with the Seminoles, are undefeated this season, preparing for Saturday's Atlantic Coast Conference championship against Georgia Tech.
(Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Bill Trott)