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. TMoney

    "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."

    No. That's what they were about. Now, go dig out your crotch cheese and fling it at your image in the mirror. Kids were hurt. Justice was done.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:45 am | Report abuse |
  2. caliber07

    On another note, why don't they take away everybody's bachelor's degree or master degree that was given out during this time. After all they are part of the blame for attending the games and the University. Taking away a statue and wins is not gonna erase history... if NCAA and the school wants to punish someone they should fire the staff and sue all the administrators and give the money to those victims and victims around the world

    July 24, 2012 at 2:00 am | Report abuse |
  3. Mike in Atlanta

    How much would any want to wager Governor Tom Corbitt was in on this? He was the AG of Pennsylvania at the time...he knew. How much Do you want to wager he was an attendee at Bohemian Gardens in California? This whole thing is a smoke screen for something much larger. Google the Franklin Scandal. It will open your eyes. Sandusky is guilty, so is JoePa...but it goes much deeper.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:00 am | Report abuse |
    • ExPAVIC

      A University higher up (Assistant Provost) during my lawsuit in the 1980's referred to the upper level administration and most of the Board of Trustees as "the Mason Mafia." If you know anything about the Masons, one cannot bear witness to another as part of their code.
      At close look at the situation, there is an appearance that there was cover up, denial, and outright avoidance in the management and handing of this matter and may require a look see.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:15 am | Report abuse |
    • debbie

      The so-called Franklin Scandal has nothing to do with this – what's your point? That there is more than one pedophile in the world??

      July 24, 2012 at 2:16 am | Report abuse |
    • zombie expert

      please elaborate.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:47 am | Report abuse |
  4. josh

    Personally, I dont get why the NCAA keeps vacating wins. Its a stupid thing to do and makes the colleges look like they are run by idiots.. THE GAMES HAPPENED PEOPLE!!! millions of people had the memories of watching/going to these games. Its like ur trying to erase something that actually happened. your just gonna alienate ur fan base and make the record books fill up with asteriks. Regardless of what happened it had nothing to do with football or the actual games. Just like with all the vacated heismans and what not. Doesnt take the fact that they were great players and coaches...JUST FINE The teams and do bowl bans..quit vactaing wins

    July 24, 2012 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
  5. Carl

    People,you,ve been rope-a-doped again! With Penn State stripped of those games, guess who replaces Paterno as the winningest coach of all time? Eddie Robinson of Grambling State. Guess who put pressure on the NCAA to take away those victories? Yes, that's right – Obama.Guess who got Obama to do it? Grambling Alumni and the NAACP. Don't drink the Kool Aide!!

    July 24, 2012 at 2:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Cooper

      Doesn't take long for the racist card to rear its ugly head anymore does it? Shame. I thought this country had almost gotten past this.
      What is that line in "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?" Something like "You see yourself as a black man, I see myself as a man. Not until your whole generation has laid down and died will the thought of that be off our backs". Can't wait for that to happen.
      As for the political comment. Stupid. But sometimes you can't expect anymore than that from some people.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:21 am | Report abuse |
    • DC1973

      Funny. The article says Bobby Bowden's got the #1 spot now, but you're right. Eddie Robinson's got almost 30 games on him. That's only in Division I, though. John Gagliardi is and has been #1 overall for years (and he's still coaching).

      July 24, 2012 at 2:32 am | Report abuse |
    • mvbasten

      ugh... seriously?!? a conspiracy of black people is all you got out of this?

      July 24, 2012 at 2:45 am | Report abuse |
    • MooCow

      Wow, conspiracy theory much ?

      July 24, 2012 at 4:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Ghilley

      As far out as it sounds Im sure that all the HBCU's were pushing for this

      July 24, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ike

    People make me laugh so hard when people post it looks like joe lost his record or something like that. Shall I bring up you tube videos of the events happening? Or do you want me to go find the records of 100 of thousands of tickets sold? Do you want me to find you a pearson who was there so you can talk to them. Um yea he won the games and theres nothing anyone can do to change that. Good job Joe lets see how long it will take for somone to get 410 wins. (It might be a while.) (Also for all you saying well offically he now never won thoughs games. What the NCAA did was offically illegal becuase PSU never broke any of there rules. So it makes any sanctions obeyed by PSU a present to the NCAA

    July 24, 2012 at 2:14 am | Report abuse |
  7. Cooper

    Humm.... football games vs. welfare of children.

    Wonder what is more important to a lot of the students at Penn State? From the comments I have read from this and other columns, some have a lot of growing up to do. Pity. I doubt if Paterno is proud of them right now.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:17 am | Report abuse |
  8. MSL58

    The issue is not if Penn State football sould be closed down. The issue should be if Penn State needs to be closed down. Aside from Football and somdomizing young boys, does anything else go on theer, such as, perhaps, maybe, ACADEMICS?

    July 24, 2012 at 2:34 am | Report abuse |
  9. toysofotherich

    School is first an foremost for the education of the mind. Sports while I love them are fundraisers. An old man made an epic mistake to preserve his image. He was selfish and should have thought of victims first. Players you still have your memories of success. A shame your coaches did not do the right thing. Not your fault and you loose nothing other than some pride. Pride you should still have for your accomplishments. You did no dishonor. I am sure many of you have children. Wouldn't you want someone to have stand up and done the right thing if that was your child? This is real folks. The lives of these children were forever changed and it did not have to be this way.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:04 am | Report abuse |
  10. Joe

    The NCAA is a plantation system where coaches make millions and students can't borrow a car. The NCAA should be put on permanent probabation.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:59 am | Report abuse |
  11. larry5

    His legacy? He's a monster that put on a civilized face.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:12 am | Report abuse |
  12. leslee

    Good decision by NCAA. Next time, don't molest children and/or cover for those that do. Has anyone else wondered if Paterno and others swept this under the rug because they, too, were pedophiles?

    July 24, 2012 at 4:18 am | Report abuse |
  13. leslee

    I wonder if Paterno was a pedophile too.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:24 am | Report abuse |
    • jenny

      probly, but the guys liked it because it came from their cult leader

      July 24, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Mr. Thanatos

      Who would cover for a pedophile except those that have their own crimes to hide? It does make me wonder.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • jenny

      yes, but the guys didn;t tell anyone because they all wanted to be his special player....

      July 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • jack

      mostly likely he was. not hard to imagine an invite from jerry in which the two of them participated in destroying the innocence of a child.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sassafrasnewport

      He wasn't . Just a self centered coward.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Alvin

    Bottom lines is Sandusky was a major part in Paterno program and winning streak. Joe chose to keep quite and keep aboard this man to win. It's not about anything, but fairness. It's the same as if we found out most of his players were illegally playing football in those times. If you take them just like Sandusky out of the equation then what would have been the end results. Obviously Paterno knew that he couldn't make it without him and chose unrighteousness over righteousness; which may have left long term emotional damage to young men that didn't deserve it.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:28 am | Report abuse |
  15. Alvin

    It amazing how people are debating and grieving openly Penn state NCAA football game winning record and dismiss the fact that; Joe wanted to win even if it meant sacrificing children. what a world we live in.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:34 am | Report abuse |
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