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. stepasidesue

    I don't see the sanctions hurting anyone but the current and previous students and players. The pedofile wasn't attached to the university in any way. They should charge the men (good old boys) and send to jail. Why punish the students.

    July 24, 2012 at 7:37 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Willie12345

    Did the end of W W II alter Hitler's legacy ? Who hired this writer ?

    July 24, 2012 at 7:53 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. RobK

    There was nothing in the rule book concerning this. Mark Emmert and his cronies just made things up as they went along, without any debate, and then applied the new rules retroactively. That's not how we do things in America. Emmert should resign since he was the top guy in the NCAA when part of this was going on. He wasn't involved you say? Neither were 99.99% of the people punished by the NCAA for Sandusky's crimes.

    July 24, 2012 at 7:58 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. RobK

    Emmert needed to punish someone to show that he is a tough guy. Typical politician. Strike out at someone to show that you are doing something, even before all the facts are in, and even if you are punishing the innocent.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:00 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • alanjay1

      Exactly.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
    • emmertdusky

      Emmert is a clueless, pandering teflon Don trying to grow his turf. His time's coming too.

      July 24, 2012 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
  5. Old Bulldawg

    This is NOT over, not by any means. Even the situation with Sandusky himself still has the appeals process. After Curley and Schultz have their days in court, it could possibly turn out that Paterno himself was a relatively minor player or even less. The allegation that the PA governor took a bribe in 1998 seems to warrant investigation by the real FBI, not Freeh's private company, and it will also be interesting to learn whether real judges accept the findings of Freeh's report as the wannabe judges at the NCAA did. It is possible that the NCAA could eventually look very foolish.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:02 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Its all BS

    What the NCAA is doing is a CRIME they are falsifying business / historical records and committing fraud!!

    July 24, 2012 at 8:03 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Its all BS

      if those games never happened then set up a fund so all the cash that people spent for tickets and concessions over that time period can be refunded to them

      July 24, 2012 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Anon

      What Paterno and the administrators did is commit the crime. The didn't report a child molester and let Sandusky continue to come around campus after they knew what he did.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jim

    To the freshmen football players who signed on to attend PSU with free ride:

    Don't expect me to feel sorry for you. You may not have caused things but did you not have any clue that the NCAA would punish PSU?

    July 24, 2012 at 8:06 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • alanjay1

      They may have legitimately thought that the NCAA wasn't going to punish the future for the actions of people in the past. Is that so unreasonable?

      July 24, 2012 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
  8. BlogARama

    I do not think this article is correct in its saying that when Bowden had to vacate his 12 victories he went to #2 in the wins count. Bowden was already #2 and the vacated wins just opened gap between him and JoePa more. Maybe my memory is not serving me well but...

    July 24, 2012 at 8:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. PJ

    No, because his legacy IS child molestation.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:24 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Diana

    When ever JP name is mentioned I now think of a coward who allowed that filth to continue to destroy the lives of countless young boys. I hope they burn this guys statue.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:24 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. nottolate

    There's something real sinister going on never before seen in my lifetime. To the discerning, the true disposition and alignment of the population is being revealed through this issue. To the spiritually discerning, its as if Satan has revealed himself like never before through a majority that are aligned with him.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:26 am | Report abuse | Reply
  12. wrickard

    Punishing someone that can not defend themselves is not the American way. I would like to know exactly what was hidden or covered up and who knew what before I go penalizing people that are not even in the conversation. Its laughable to take wins a way when there is no cheating on the field. I will always consider Joe Pa the top winning coach, they were won on the field not in a board room. Now an entire community is punished for one mans actions and a few other not willing to believe the accusations. I hope the real people involved are punished but the thousands paying the price now are entirely unfair.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:36 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anon

      thye do know who committed the crime, they have copies of the emails between these criminals that show they all agreed to handle Sandusky themselves and it would be better if this info didn't get out.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
  13. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

    Sicko football fanatics will over look anything in the name of their religion.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:37 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Amy

    Everyone's forgetting who is at fault here. Instead of saying the NCAA is being to harsh and unfair, you should focus on the people who wronged those poor children. This isn't the NCAA's fault, they're punishing Penn State for they're wrong doing. Blame Penn State for having they're wins vacated, scholarships taken away, etc. The current players are men who will be able to play at other universities. If they're good enough to play at a top football program like Penn State used to be, I'm sure they'll have no problems getting playing time somewhere else. As for the former players, it sucks that you're wins are vacated, but blame Sandusky, Paterno, and the Penn State officials that commited and allowed young boys to be molested.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:37 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. GeorgeBos95

    The NCAA seems to believe that neutron-bombing Penn State is the way to send a message. Sure, if the message is that they have the deft touch of an elephant.

    They SHOULD NOT be imposing sanctions that hurt players, or anyone not involved in the cover up. The SHOULD be imposing sanctions and lifetime bans on the perps who did the cover up. Blowing out the entire program may be dramatic, but the message it sends is that the NCAA lacks wisdom.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:45 am | Report abuse | Reply
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