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. Ben

    I suppose if Joe would have called the cops on Sandusky; we could still have his Statue and Wins,....Right?!?!?!???

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

    Joe Paterno's career highlights... and the entire time he's secretly sheltering pedophiles... pathetic coward. Joe who?

    July 24, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. spike

    All these "Paterno loyalists" would be singing a different tune if Paterno had virtually ignored attacks on their sons in the shower, and then covered up the crimes to protect the football program..

    July 24, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Kco

    The more people still scream support for the man and the "penn state way" the more sanctions and penalties need to be given. This entire conspiracy of silence and god worship of a frigging football coach needs to be erased!

    The penn state way needs to be addressed so that sports never again takes precedence over the safety of people.
    The penn state way needs to become as derogatory term as any racial slur.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:31 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Goose66

    Punish those that covered up and fine the program in order to deter future cover-ups by other schools - but why punish the former players and school as a whole for the acts of a few men by "erasing" their accomplishments and the schools record(s). How does that promote forward progress. It's ridiculous and just seems bitter and unproductive. A complete overreaction by bureaucrats to try to punish a man who is already dead.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:31 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • kmw

      Goose86,

      I agree with your points. . Mr. Paterno is dead and let's move on.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  6. Chuck

    I would say that protecting child rapists are more responsible for wiping out a "football legacy" than anything else.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. don

    Well, the truth of the matter is that a win is a win. So, coaches and players will see him as number 1, while the rest of the world will see him and number 8, 12..whatever. Either way, he knocked down everything he built up, which leads me to ask, without Sandusky, would Penn state have won so many games? If the answer is no, then if he had called the police on Sandusky, he would have probably ended up as number 12 anyway. What do you guys think?

    July 24, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Shawnee

      The world won't see him as 8 or 9, they will se him as PEDOPHILE PROTECTOR. Exactly what he is and was.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Kingbear

      When did Sandusky retire? I thought iot was 1999.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Armida

      Agreed

      July 24, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Armida

      Agreed on that.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  8. JB

    I understand giving a harsh punishment so as to discourage this kind of thing from ever happening again. However, the changing history part seems almost illegal. It was what it was. We can't rewrite that now.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • fred

      It is just football. Is it life or death? No.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • DUH

      It does help ensure that NO ONE EVER forgets what happened.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. PennStateAlumni

    Leave Paterno alone. He just watched.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • D. A, Scully

      Paterno guided many men to better lives. I am an alumnus of PSU.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • DUH

      Paterno's "Just watching" allowed this terminable travesty to continue for 14 years.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bill N.

    Because none of us know all the facts, it's very tough to argue most of the points that the NCAA put sanctions on and fines. BUt, the one thing that I really feel is unfair is to take away the victories back to 1998. This is just going too far. It's especially unfair to the players. As far as Joe Paterno, maybe the law feels that he didn't follow up on what he was told enough. But, as far as we've heard he didn't do anything wrong except for that. It's an atrocity to take away the victories. What do they do now, take away the touchdowns scored by the running backs, the touchdown passes by the quarterbacks, etc. You can take this thing way farther if you want to. Do they erase the names of the cheerleaders from 1998 on?

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

      Hey, these punishments are perfectly logical! After all, Joe Paterno was a part of the Penn State team, so the whole team needs punishment. And the team is a part of the school, so the the whole school needs the same treatment. And the school is a part of the State of Pennsylvania, so likewise to the State. And the State is part of the USA, so keep up the punishment. And the USA is part of the world, and the world is part of the universe...
      The NCAA makes perfect sense with their decision.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      You must be REALLY SICK "it's an atrocity to take away the winning games".
      The ATROCITY is that an evil, sick old man had the welfare of children in his hand and did NOTHING to protect them because it might look bad to his career and the football program.
      Apparently St. Paterno regarded himself as far more important than the welfare of children, what kind of an animal was he? rot in hell Joe Paterno

      July 24, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • DUH

      Joey Boy was a cheerleader. His name is still there.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jackson

    The administration is bringing it on themselves, and deserve everything they have received so far, and more.

    Now, if only we could sic the NCAA on the Catholic Church, so they can get rid of the rest of the pedos....

    July 24, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse | Reply
  12. fred

    IT IS JUST FOOTBALL!
    I am amazed how some PSU students, alumni and fans are upset about the punishment.
    It is very clear to me that the football first culture that led to this disgraceful cover up is still alive and well at PSU. .
    Maybe the death penalty should have been put into place so these rabid FOOTBALL fans can understand what really happened. It is almost like they do not fully understand. SAD..

    July 24, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mr. Thanatos

      PSU fans can always use the "Paterno method" to deal with these sanctions: turn your head away and pretend nothing happened. That should work for the next 12-14 years.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • ayojay

      The students are not defending the football program, they are defending due process, justice, and the right of honorable man to rest in peace... at least until there is cold, hard evidence of any wrongdoings on his part. Nobody is perfect, but Paterno has done too much good for too many people to be chastised like this in the court of public opinion, media presiding

      July 24, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
    • frespech

      Fred, go back and play in your petunia and pansy garden. Grow up.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • RealityCheck

      What many of you fail to realize is that the police were called twice to investigate this. After an investigation by Detective Ronald Shreffler, Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar chose not to prosecute. WHO is really to blame now. Incidents were reported to police and the prosecutor CHOSE not to prosecute.

      The real bad guys...are the supposed good guys. Before you go bashing people with no facts what so ever, I suggest shutting your unfactual opinions and learn to listen for once instead of giving two bit conclusions to your opinion.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mr. Thanatos

      Here's a reality check: PSU is screwed.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mike Ford

    Paterno and Penn State had a choice. They had a child abuser on their campus. They could turn him in, get a lot of bad publicity, lose a few recruits and maybe a few games or they could do the right thing and stop child abuse. For more than 4,000 days they decided to CHEAT by hiding the truth about what was happening in their facilities. Their choices led to the continued abuse of many innocent young men. Every time they saw Sandusky on campus they were reminded and they made the choice to do nothing. The investigation also uncovered Paterno's interference with player discipline that allowed them to play when they should have been suspended....more cheating. The punishment was harsh but appropriate.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Renee

      VERY well stated Michael. I'm baffled at how quickly some have chosen to forget that the abuse DOES involve Penn State and the football program because several acts happened ON CAMPUS, IN THE PENN STATE football facility. For that reason alone, I believe the punishment was fair and equitable.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • ayojay

      You know exactly what Paterno knew and the extent of his decision making process, huh?If you consider Paterno's track record you would have no reason to believe that he was trying to cover anything of this sort up. He was also a football coach second, life coach first. He led by example. Look up those examples. You'd be surprised at headlines before this mess.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • emmertdusky

      You'd probably feel better if they had put cameras in the shower.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Norm

    Nobody likes a winner.
    Joe may have been wrong about Sandusky but he was still a great football coach.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Shawnee

      Yep, and Adolf Hitler was a decorated WWI soldier. That doesn't make him a good guy.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  15. morris2196

    Penn State won the games that it won. No power on earth can change that.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jean Calhoun

      oh yea... go let your son spend the night with Sandusky.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • frespech

      To Shawnee, Go play with your dollies dumb%$.Hitler and Paterno. What an absurd comparison. You truly are a moron, an idiot, a numbskull, and a DS.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
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