July 23rd, 2012
05:04 PM ET

Do sanctions alter history books on Penn State and Paterno's legacy?

The NCAA's actions on Monday seem to be about more than just punishing Penn State's future football teams for the school's role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

In addition to the fines, bans and other sanctions it handed down that will hurt the storied program for a long time, in some eyes, the NCAA has wiped out almost all of the success of teams under coach Joe Paterno starting the moment he learned about Jerry Sandusky's actions but didn't do anything about it.

"Obviously, the 1998 date was selected because that's when the first reported incidents of abuse occurred and that's when the failure to respond appropriately began," NCAA President Mark Emmert said during a news conference on Monday. "And that was the point of time from which one could make an argument, of course, that the failures began inside the institution, so it seemed to both me and the executive committee that that was the appropriate beginning date."

Emmert's message was clear: The NCAA was choosing to punish a culture of silence, a culture that protected the program above all moral obligations and those responsible for making it that way.

Vacating wins has long been a debate in all sports. And so there is no surprise that the NCAA's ruling on Monday sent the debate over the decision to vacate the wins into a tailspin. But it raised questions about the implications the sanctions will have on past and current players, Paterno's legacy and ultimately Penn State's place among the best football programs.

Some say you can erase the wins, but it is an empty punishment that does nothing to move the university forward and doesn't ultimately change the facts. Others say it is the best way to punish a school: by wiping out a massive chunk of its history.

ESPN analyst and lawyer Jay Bilas told CNN that while the Penn State situation is egregious, the NCAA failed in doling out the penalties to the right people.

He believes the NCAA hammered the institution but failed to really hit those he believes are responsible, including former President Graham Spanier, former Athletic Director Tim Curley, former Interim Senior Vice President for Business and Finance Gary Schultz and Paterno.

“All any of them had to do was communicate (the Sandusky reports) to someone else. And all of them chose to be silent,” he said. “That’s unforgivable and unconscionable. The suggestions or implication that the football culture made them abandon their human decency is kind of offensive. Football didn’t do that; that was done by four individuals in positions of authority that could not be counted upon to do the right.”

And the message sent by the NCAA and Penn State based on the consent decree, Bilas believes, is that the culture of football was at fault, and so that institution should be punished. But Bilas believes that message neglects to get at the really heart of the issue.

“Putting this off on football just glosses over the fact that individuals were at a fault here, and they are not being held to account,” he said.

Bilas said he understood the frustration and anger of current and former Penn State players who say that by punishing the institution, the NCAA was punishing them, too.

"Yes, Joe Paterno turned out to be a really bad person. But he won more games than any college coach in history. That’s a fact," Forbes writer Mike Ozanian wrote. "Barry Bonds holds both the all-time and single season home run records in baseball. That’s a fact. We might not like either fact. But we should also be treated as mature and adult enough to be able to discern on our own the difference between sports heroes and villains."

For the players on the affected Penn State teams, taking away those 112 games means they have essentially become collateral damage to the institution they so proudly represented on the field, when they probably had no idea what was happening off the field. The 2005 team will argue that its one-loss season and Orange Bowl win cannot be erased.

Who pays the price for sanctions? | What happens to Penn State football?

Others argue that the scars of their efforts still remain even if the win column looks different. Adam Taliaferro, a former player under Paterno, tweeted about a plate in his neck that is a lasting reminder of his spinal cord injury from playing at Penn State.

For them, the emotions and the sacrifices that they left on the field have been tainted. Former Penn State player Derek Moye says the vacating of victories ordered by the NCAA can't erase his memories of what he has been a part of.

Former Penn State player A. Q. Shipley tweeted a picture of rings he won at Penn State.

And former defensive end Devon Still tweeted a picture of a ring that was given out to players when Paterno passed the 400-win mark. No NCAA ruling will take that moment for him, he said.

Almost all of the former players note that their frustrations pale in comparison to those of the victims. But still, this sanction in particular stings deep for them. They believe they are paying the price for actions they did not commit.

Bilas said that is often the case when it comes to NCAA sanctions.

“The NCAA winds up more often than not sanctioning institutions rather than individuals,” said. “They’ve always punished into the future and the ones that are left behind. This is business as usual. It is always the current players that take the hit, the current coach that takes the hit.”

Bilas had hoped that sanctions would include show-cause orders for the top officials as a way to force Penn State to disassociate themselves with those involved at the highest levels.

A show-cause penalty has been used by the NCAA to punish coaches and officials before. It essentially puts penalties on them not just at their current jobs but also should they choose go elsewhere, often leaving them without a job at the college level.

In some ways, vacating the wins can be seen as the biggest slap in the face possible. It may in part be the least overall harmful sanction, but it may have the longest impact. In some ways, it forever alters the history books on Penn State and Paterno's legacy as a whole.

“I think it's pretty clear that this was about dismantling a football program that the NCAA executive committee and board felt had gotten too big,” Bilas said. “That conclusion is inescapable. They wouldn’t have involved itself but for the fact that football was omnipotent and revered to that level.”

Paterno, as the most visible and symbolic figure of the institution, has perhaps been hit the hardest. On top of Penn State removing the statue of the man who defined the program for years, the move of vacating wins dethrones the Happy Valley hero from the title he clung to most: the winningest coach in college football. He achieved it during his last game, and many close to him said that goal was what he was holding on to as he coached into his later years.

Vacating the wins may be the least overall harmful sanction, but it may have the longest impact. In some ways, it forever alters the history books on Penn State and Paterno's legacy as a whole.

Photos: Final tributes, Paterno statue removed

The NCAA's move sent Paterno from the top of the heap with the most wins down to 12th all-time and fifth for Division I schools.

Paterno's family issued a statement saying that they feel the coach has unfairly been defamed and now shamed without having the chance to defend himself.

"The release of the Freeh report has triggered an avalanche of vitriol, condemnation and posthumous punishment on Joe Paterno. The NCAA has now become the latest party to accept the report as the final word on the Sandusky scandal," the family said in a statement. "The sanctions announced by the NCAA today defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator without any input from our family or those who knew him best."

Penn State review recasts story of football hero Paterno

Now, his friend Bobby Bowden sits at the top of the heap as the winningest coach.

And Bowden knows a thing or two about being in the midst of NCAA troubles. He had 12 wins vacated by the NCAA for the time he was coach at Florida State University relating to ineligible players and an academic scandal. With those wins, he would have been sitting atop Paterno for the most wins even before the NCAA sanctions.

Bowden said he remembers how upset he was having those wins taken away, but he acknowledges that a much more horrible situation occurred at Penn State than just academics or player issues.

"I'm not rejoicing," Bowden told CNN.

The coach said he was truly surprised at the extent of the measures taken by the NCAA.

"I guess they felt that with the extent of what happened with Sandusky and the way it was handled," those measures were appropriate, he said. "I didn't expect them to take that many away."

The vacating of all of those wins does not just have an effect on what we will say about Paterno. It also largely shakes the standing and legacy of Penn State in the history books, which now is no longer one of the Top 10 winningest football programs of all time.

Penn State, however, unlike Paterno, has had the chance to give input and respond to the Freeh report. And the school is making a statement by saying it will not fight the view the NCAA has taken about previous inaction.

And ultimately, it has agreed to not challenge the NCAA's harsh perception of the past but also self-sanction the school's future and ultimately rewrite Paterno's entire legacy.

Paterno loyalists call NCAA sanctions excessive

soundoff (1,035 Responses)
  1. Name*Geoege

    What a shame, yet how typical, that yet another self serving miscreant has survived such a long time yet not quite long enough to be confronted with and receive the come down and humiliation they deserve.

    July 23, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      Paterno got off easy.

      July 23, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      Paterno was Sandusky's superior. He knew all about his behavior and DID NOTHING. NOTHING. N-O-T-H-I-N-G.

      I am so sick and tired of these bird-brained football freaks who seem to be more riled up over having the games expunged from the record than what happened to the kids.

      The old guy in the "Paterno" t-shirt in the CNN video who brought a life sized cardboard cutout of Paterno to the spot where the statue used to be as "a tribute" to "a great man" needs psychiatric attention.

      What the hell is the matter with these people?

      July 23, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. lkinaustin

    While I sympathize with current and former players and the with the families this scandal has affected, I do NOT sympathize with Joe Paterno. That man had 14 years to do the right thing, and he chose his legacy, his reputation and his football program over the lives of innocent young boys. I hope this is a lesson to all schools who put their athletic programs above EVERYTHING – including the law and the safety of kids. If this were to happen in Austin, I'm sure I would be heartbroken, but I'd learn to live with it, so you PSU fans, buck up and deal with what rotten people were at the helm of your university. Shame on them.

    July 23, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gary

      1998? hmmm That is the year that Sandusky was investagated by everyone and thier brother and it was found there was not enough to bring charges.how in the world can you pick that of all the dates?

      July 23, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    I know facts don't always make a good story but Eddie Robinson of Grambling is now the leader with 408 wins in Division I.
    Bowden is second.

    July 23, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • wjs2003

      Um...Grambling ain't D-I.

      July 23, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mitch

      Not all of his wins came from D 1 schools. Thats why he isnt first.

      July 23, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. stevem7

    The only record being modified is down at the NCAA Headquarters where they WAY overstepped their bounds. There is no way that some administrator can wipe out wins or change the outcome of games played. If it makes him feel good to say 0 for 14 years thats his business but the public at large knows that the WINNINGEST COACH in college football is Joe Pa of Penn State. And don't take my word for it, even Lou Holtz said what the NCAA did was excessive. They have attempted to punish thousands for the sins of five. Doesn't work that way.

    July 23, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • jnpa

      I totally agree. The NCAA didn't do it to Penn State, they did it to those players who won those games and they are doing it to the future players as well. Shame on the NCAA!

      July 23, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • John75

      I am afraid it is. Football is an NCAA sanctioned sport. They are the governing authority. If you do not agree w/ them, you need to stop watching NCAA football. It is just that simple. Different governing bodies strip atheletes of Gold Medals, different awards, records, ect. all the time depending on the sport and the rule broken. This will be a complete afterthought in 10-15 years and no one, other than the players and some of the staff, will remember the wins, just the scandal. I guarantee that.

      July 23, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Winston5

      Stop talking about football dude. Get a clue.

      July 23, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Steve

    Joe Paterno failed the young boys, team, school and himself by failing to do what was right. The great things he did as a football coach pale by comparison to the great thing he failed to do.

    July 23, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rft

    While I agree with the fines imposed, Joe Paterno is dead, and taking back 111 wins does nothing to affect him, but it affects the players who weren't even at the school during the time of the offenses. I am an Alabama fan, but I don't believe that it's fair to punish the players who didn't know anything about what went on with Sandusky. The forfeit of scholarships and bowl games only depresses the student body and discourages other students from enrolling at the university, that has already been embarrassed by the scandal. Punish the school, but don't punish the students.

    July 23, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • phillyboy

      You cannot punish the school and the football program and not have it effect the students. Football is the life blood for most large universities and subsidizes all other programs. The Lacrosse, swimmng and all other sports will be hurt by this punishment laid out by the NCAA

      July 23, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Winston5

      But it's the culture of winning over all else (human lives) that they're trying to change. And frankly, if you punish the school, by definition, you're punishing the kids too. It's very sad all around.

      July 23, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Annie VA

      Thank you for writing something that is not so hate-filled and disgusting about the current students, including players. I am a PSU fan, disgusted by this and don't support what happened and certainly not the men involved who covered this up. We cannot undo what has happened, but hopefully learn lessons that not only PSU has to face, but so many programs.. As we have seen all too often, punish those that deserve to be punished, not the ones that are not involved.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Terry NJ

    We love to tear down our icons, and in this case it is well deserved. everyone involved from Sandusky all the way up the food chain should all have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The big fines levied should be distributed to the victims of this atrocity that it may give them some help in getting counseling and some satisfaction in knowing the SOB's were brought to justice

    July 23, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Thinks2010

    Maybe they can replace the Paterno statue with one of some PSU professor or graduate who actually contributed something important and beneficial to society. Good riddance to the PSU football cult. Now, perhaps, PSU and its students, alumni and supporters can focus their energy, attention and support on what should be the true center of pride and accomplishment of a university–education.

    July 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Craig

    This entire discussion is completely lacking in perspective or depth. This is NOT history! Sports are not history. Sports are trivia. Children were ripped off of their childhood! Everyone IS punished and diminished.

    July 23, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. tempertempertemper

    Well then, why did not any of these former players say anything to the police about Joe "enabler" Pa protecting Gerald "nasty" Sandusky? None of them knew anything–they were all Sgt. Schultz of Hogan's Heroes?

    July 23, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Vicki

    I thought Joe Paterno DID report it to the administration at Penn State. He was a football coach, not a policeman or a physchiatrist, etc. I too think it is a terrible thing that happened to those boys and Sandusky is trash for doing it but Joe Paterno DID not do it. HE is not GUILTY of the crime. He reported it and thought those that should have been responsible for that sort of crime should have made and did make the decisions ultimately to not go to the police. With Joe Paterno reporting it to them, it was their decision, even if he did tell them he didn.t think that Jerry Sandusky was doing anything wrong – THEY should have taken control and let the police decide. Not a football coach. He did everything for that university, gave them money, made donations, etc. and Yes he loved football. But if I was his family, they would never, ever, in a million years get anouther dime!

    July 23, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • kssickandtired

      I, too, heard that Paterno had said something to an administrator; however, I understood the comment to be an "Oh by the way" kind of comment. Paterno should have followed up on this and never let it go.
      If he had done the right thing in the beginning by terminating Sandusky,coming forward and facing the truth, all of his stats could still be honored. Paterno chose to turn his head and look the other way.
      Unfortunately, the players are collateral damage to Paterno's lack of morals. Everything these young men (football players) learned from Paterno is now tainted b/c he lied.
      My prayers go out to those abused and their families. Your courage to come forward is amazing and this courage will touch so many lives that you'll never know about.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Hunter

    It will not matter to the followers of the perverts, but anybody that was raised with moral values, that is honest will see that Paterno was a willing pimp for Sandusky, maybe even got paid, after all Pervstate reward them over and over. The Football team should be ban for life.
    Any decent parent should transfer his child, who is going to offer a job to a graduate from a dirty perverted university?

    July 23, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      So the University is corrupt now not just a few people who couldn't or would't do the right thing? Oh that should be banned and he or she not just his child, women are parents too

      July 23, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dale

    Joe Paterno made himself a multimillionaire off the football program at PSU. He had enough money and power to do the right thing. He choose to save his legacy and not the youg victims. He was no hero, but a self-centered individual that even at the end could only say " I wish I had done more." He did plenty to keep his players out of harms way for their misconduct. Even in the end he did not face up to his deeds as a hero would have demonstrated.

    July 23, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. R.W. Tank Ward

    Wasn't Pete Rose's records 'just rubbed out'? I'm not a baseball fan. I'm a product of the Bear and 'Bama football. We've had our hits too. Penn State players, I try to reach you. Your coaches, gameplans, drafting, everything went down the tube with the way you got it. Sorry my brothers. R.W. Tank Ward, LTC Army, Retired. US ARMY RANGER.

    July 23, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Logic

      Pete Rose's records were not touched. He was banished from Baseball, meaning he cannot participate in any official MLB sanctioned event and he won't be in the Hall of Fame (at least in his lifetime). His records remain since his infractions were committed well after his playing days. Not sure if he lost any of his managerial wins over it.

      Records are solely dependent on the sanctioning body. In this case these are NCAA records, so they can decide if wins are official or not.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. OPEN400

    We now have the the college coach with most win(Paterno), the baseball player with the most hits(Pete Rose) and the baseball player with the most home runs(Barry Bonds) all discredited. Even Lance Armstrong's achievements are in question now. Granted: These guys were not saints, but niether was Mickey Mantle,Babe Ruth, Paul Horning, Ty Cobb or Wilt Chamberlain as well. Who determines who get their records stripped?

    July 23, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
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