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. mac101

    All the board members, students, fans, alumni and players had no problem sharing in the glory – and the lucrative advertising contracts – when Penn State football was riding high, so they should have no problem sharing in the shame now that it's been exposed.

    Live by football – die by football.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:08 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. mslisac363

    why punish these school kids... They had nothing to do with a sick men. I truly this think this is stupid. The football players played the game and won.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Sonya

    There is absolutely no justification to protect or cover-up a known pedeophile act. I don't care who told him what or who threatened him or whatever! He would have been much more of a respectable man to me if he had done the right thing years ago. I don't care what wonderful things he did for the football team or the school or how much money he donated. That is completely irrelevant to me. That one mistake that he made, in my opinion, is the biggest and most immorale mistake of his life. You DO NOT protect pedoephiles AT ALL and that is exactly what he did and no one will tell me differently. His statue deserves to be taken down. He turned a blind eye knowing that young and innocent boys were being molested. That is utterly disgusting in my book. I do, however, feel for his family as long as they did not know of his cover-ups. I would not protect my own husband or father, both of which I love very much, if I ever found out they had anything to do with molesting a child. I would turn them in faster than you can blink your eye. As a mother that is the worst fear that I have and to think of protecting anyone who perverts a child makes me sick to my stomach!

    July 24, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. SPENT

    NCAA: You are a joke! The community should close the doors on this university.....shut it down and use it as a homeless shelter for those that attend will not even be the same.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Because of the lack of actions of a man more concerned with his reputation than for the safety of children, a number of great college football teams will no longer hold the honors that they earned. All the record books for the years 1998 to 2011 will now have asterisks due to one man's hubris. Kudos to the NCAA for allowing the team members to transfer without loss of eligibility. They should not be made to suffer for the actions or inaction of their head coach.
    As a Syracuse alum, I should be filled with glee over Penn State's misfortune. Sorry, fellow Orangemen, but I feel for these kids staying at State College, PA. They will not have the opportunities that the rest of the Div 1A teams enjoy for the next few years. Their new coach took over a program where he knew he would have a lot of work to do. Now it will only be harder. I wish him well, as I wish all who remain at Penn State. Now the state of Pennsylvania needs to go after those who allowed Sandusky to be the predator he was.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Think About It

      Yeah, they should go after the now-governor, who was the attorney general at the time, and did his best to sweep it under the rug as well.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. PCT1999

    Ha Ha Ha PSU trustees, Stew in your juices over it

    July 24, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Jay G

    Penn State is a frightening cult. Brainwashing 101 must be a first day required course.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. felix el gato

    Protect the rapist for the glory of Joe Paterno.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Libdumb

    How can you change the facts. I think they did and do that in Germany, Russia and China. So Barry Bonds, Mcguire and Sosa didn't really hit them home runs?

    July 24, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Joyce

    Penn State should have gotten the Death Penalty! All of the officials should be charged also. All benefits, retirement should be forfitted.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • BOB

      HELL YEA!!!!!!!!!!

      July 24, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  11. Phil

    To whomever is now the PSU head football coach: "GOOD LUCK JACK!"

    July 24, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
  12. jdsportsfan

    I think Penn State received just punishment for it's indiscretions. Here are my complete thoughts on the issue: http://wp.me/2wecE

    July 24, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Brian

    Could it be that the reason Paterno protected Sandusky is because Sandusky knew something about Paterno. You don't tell my secret, and I won't tell yours.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Bob

    All its doing is punishing the players that had nothing to do with it. Its typical Mark Emmert and NCAA. Emmert is a joke.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ben

      Yea, Emmert and the NCAA suck, like Joe was in the shower with Sanduskey 'nem!!!!!!!!

      July 24, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      I hear a lot of talk about how innocent people are getting punished by these sanctions. I don't know if any of you can be convinced otherwise but consider the following. Everyone has already been punished by what Sandusky and his enablers have done and are at serious risk in the future. They have been made part of a sick culture. These sanctions (and I think all the more reason why the death penalty should have been imposed) is to clean up this culture and not expose the students, players and anyone associated with the university, to this culture. Until that is fixed everyone is in jeopardy. God knows what other corruption could arise that would directly affect those who feel "injured" because they lost bragging rights. So the way to look at this is as a step toward protecting everyone in the future.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  15. Lada12

    I'm a Penn Stater and will support our students athletes. They do go to PSU for an education – a fine education. We graduate 80% of our football players.

    I don't care about JoePa or the statue. I feel bad for the kids who played the games. But, they'll move on......

    I really care about the victims and the LEGAL process. Not sure why no one is concerned about why Spanier hasn't been indicted?

    Strange to me that many outside of PSU keep talking about football. Who is obsessed? All of the Penn Staters I know are more concerned about making sure the legal process takes place and that those who truly covered up these crimes are held responsible. But....I can't find any articles talking about that anymore.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bari

      You are so right. People still just don't get it.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
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