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. bobby

    The sanction do not erase the Penn State Legacy....they define it

    July 24, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Runner

    It is sad that these players are too high and mighty about their winning ring and not about the abuse and deception this school hid. It isn't about yourself PSU players, this is beyond that. The school and coaches had no right in hiding this. By ignoring this issue, you are just as immoral as Paterno who hid this because he was too worried about his legacy. What a shame.

    This is way above some wins. What he did was not moral and it should not go unpunished.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jim

    I will admit I haven't delved into the minutia of all this; however, slapping a multimillion dollar fine on a public university seems unwarranted. Unless only the football program has to come up with the money, there are a lot of innocent taxpayers and students who will be severely hurt by this fine. A fine for something they had no knowledge of and no control over. Vengeance with a scattert gun seems an odd way to target punishment.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Bucktooth

    I'm glad the NCAA took the measures they did! Finally someone is paying attention to NOT giving athletes/sports free will to do anything they want and get away with it! Paterno should have said something even though he was told not to, or just not pay attention. That to me would be a "winning" coach! Someone who is looking out for all students well-being..that's what a real educator is suppose to do!
    they have statue up all over this country of men who should not have statues! George Washington, and others who spoke of .."liberty and Justice for all", owned Slaves and plantations. Some of them attacked Indians, and wiped out whole tribes to get what they wanted..it's no different. They still have Chris Columbus day on the calendar..what did he do? Stole from and massacred many Indians.
    So, why are we honoring any of these clowns for anything? It's a mystery, but a very stupid mystery!

    July 24, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. larry

    This whole footie worship thing strikes me as being rather gay.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. MLatino

    To compare Bonds and Paterno are two different things. Paterno was in college, Bonds was in professional sports. Like the bounties of the Saints, or the ref scandal of the NBA, professional sports have stopped pretending to be on the up and up years ago. They still market themselves as honest, but they up hold records from cheaters and champions from hit men. Paterno was in college sports, and even though we all know it's a business, college still tries to be honest and full of student- athletes. On top of that Paterno put his program ahead of the safety of children. That's worst than the Saints bounties, that's worst than Bonds and his needles, or the Black Sox, or even SMU and their Death Penalty. He put college sports above the safety of children all for a recruiting advantage. But in the end, no one can take those players memories away, no one can take anything away from anyone except for Paterno and those wins he earned by putting kids well being at risk. When my son reads the record books in 10-15 years, or whenever he cares about college sports, it will say Joe Paterno #8 all times in wins, or maybe he'll be out the top 10, and that's the fate Paterno deserves. The memories are there, but the record Paterno gained by putting kids' well being at risk is not there.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. arkmark

    OK now this is overkill or beating a dead horse(coach) Take down the statue of joepa paint over sanduskys image on a mural . Fine the school for not acting but at this rate if they keep up this "purge" Penn state will be a parking lot and all degrees confered will be considered invaledated. It happened learn from it now move on

    July 24, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Seattle

      Exactly, I agree whole heartedly.

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

      I hear arkmark. Oh this is so badd, just shut the whole school down, lol, hee hee!

      July 24, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  8. Joyce

    Death Penalty for Penn State and long jail time for all that hid the crime.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Seattle

    Thats reaching a little too far.....erasing facts? How is that going to help anyone or solve anything? Desperate and needless actions.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ben

      You're right!

      July 24, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  10. richard dunlap

    I THINK THAT THE SCHOOL SHOULD OFFER THE STATUE TO THE PATERNO FAMILY RATHER THAN JUST JUNK HEEP IT SOMEWHERE. THE SCHOOL MAY NOT CARE ABOUT PATERNO BUT OTHER PEOPLE AND THE FAMILY DO SO PENN STATE GIVE THE STATUE TO THE FAMILY.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • m

      Do they have any statues of Hitler that some supremesists could enjoy as well? Why destroy those either?

      July 24, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • kmw

      Richard,

      I think you have made an excellent suggestion.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  11. m

    Too bad he went to his grave thinking his legacy was intact. There was something rotten in the program and he deserved to see it fail.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • frespech

      Maybe we should start locking up States attorneys for failing to file charges against all criminals,
      This is a typical American over the top over reaction. Joe Paterno was a good man and anyone that says different can go straight to USC.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  12. Erik

    The players and students shouldn't be mad at the NCAA, they should be mad at their coaches and administrators

    July 24, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. matt

    Yeah, The NCAA says to all the student athletes, "you did not win that" even though it wan't your fault.

    ........YOU DID NOT WIN THAT!................. your effort is not recognized by the NCAA ... screw you innocent students

    July 24, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. ManWithThe1000PoundBrain

    It's hard to argue against the sanctions... except the erasing of the records. That is just plain dumb. Everyone now knows that the records are a big fat lie and that lie impacts more then just Penn State.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. ChrisK

    PSU – PLEASE SHUT UP! Time to move on and rebuild. Support your school, but stop supporting your discraceful Joe Pa! He failed those children!

    July 24, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse | Reply
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