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. Myotis Velifer

    Jesus knew all the details of the boys being injured. He did not report it to God. Lets take down Jesus statue and get America back on track to real honor and real men.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. cowboylaw

    I think its sad I mean sure punish Paterno thats fine and dandy,but the players had nothing to do with it and to take away the wins is just crazy, finning the school is good help the victims, but trying to erase history means that nobody will ever learn from it, it also means that you hurt more than the coaching staff and the school, you hurt the players and the fans. Seeing that wins can be taken away so easily makes me now wonder if I will watch college football and more i've already stopped watching pro football because of their bs

    July 24, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jean Calhoun

    When anyone stands by and does nothing to protect innocent children, they get what they deserve. Freaks...They were morally obligated to protect those children...to h*#l with winning a supid game...to h*#l with donating dollars to a school, to h*# with a presious record. Theirs is a record of shame. Anyone who still supports Joe Pa and PU should be ashamed of themselves. Go visit that freak Sandusky in prison. Don't forget your soap...

    July 24, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • ayojay

      conversely, anyone supporting joe pa may have a point. unfortunately you've sold your eyes and ears to the media. seek truth

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

      And to hell with you.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • emmertdusky

      I'll bet your habit is getting all wet at the thought Jean.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • DUH

      Yo aojay.... Sandusky has your truth

      July 24, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Nat Q

    In a technical sense, he did win more games than any other coach in history, but I also think it is fine to put an asterisk next to his name in all the record books saying "112 wins not recognized by official associations due to coach's long-term harboring of a child molester in the program."

    July 24, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Shawnee

      Very well said! Agree 100%!

      July 24, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  5. clearick

    Absurdity at it's finest, maybe in the mind of people who don't like Penn State, their record will be diminished, but not to the fans or players or anyone who deals with REALITY knows that Joe PA was the best College Football coach ever, and did not cheat with recruiting violations or boosters giving athletes money or any of that nonsense. This was in fact one of the cleanest programs in Division 1 Football!

    Joe is dead, and doesn't know or care what is done in his absence, but we of Penn State care and find it absurd that he was considered a part of a cover-up, when he 1. Never saw Sandusky do anything. 2. Passed on 2nd hand information to the School Administration. If he told the school about it, how did he cover it up?

    Also who is the NCAA punishing? Joe is dead, Sandusky is in jail, the Administrators are all dismissed and face criminal charges. It appears to me Penn State did what it was supposed to in terms of punishing those responsible. The simple fact is the NCAA is punishing a University and Students and Players who had nothing to do with Sandusky or Paterno or the previous administration.

    Punishment is supposed to be a deterrent and also a way to indicate what is wrong. But the people who deserve to be punished and learn these lessons aren't there, so the NCAA looks like a bunch of idiots. That is what an education does for you, gives you the perspective to see things clearly and the NCAA didn't even follow it's own guidelines. Could there be another motive, could it be that they resented Joe's success and in death they try to bury him and make people forget about his contributions? Sorry NCAA it doesn't work that way, Joe wasn't perfect, but he did a lot of things right.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nat Q

      "It appears to me Penn State did what it was supposed to in terms of punishing those responsible. "

      Then it appears to me that you haven't read the Freeh report. It seems QUITE clear that many Penn State officials did NOT do "what [they] were supposed to" in a multi.tude of ways.

      The NCAA was punishing the school, that Paterno was the coach whose record during that period will be affected doesn't make it a punishment of him. They vacated Penn State's wins, regardless of who was coaching them. And this punishment IS a deterrent. After seeing how hard they came down on Penn St, you think others are going to try to hush up things like this in the future? This was a clear violation of the ethics clause in the NCAA rules and by hiding the incidents, Penn State was knowingly dodging sanctions at earlier dates (in other words, they wouldn't have even been allowed to go to bowls and rack up ti.tles and wins during some period of time if this had come out between it's on-campus discovery and now).

      That you can say with a straight face that "This was in fact one of the cleanest programs in Division 1 Football!" when it was that very program that apparently KNOWINGLY hid a child molester on staff and allowed him to have on-campus summer camps with victims under the guise of Penn State is not merely sad, its downright sickening.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • chicago

      freaks

      July 24, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  6. njdog

    Taking wins away is just stupid. It's the players that won those games, not the coaches. Also, why fine PSU? I'm sure the Sandusky victims will win their civil suit against the University and recieve a large sum of money (PSU will likely settle anyways). Take away scholarships if you must but I don't see where the NCAA has a role in punishing PSU. Those involved have been fired or are dead and will likely be punished by the criminal justice system.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nat Q

      1) Because covering up crime IS a crime. That the direct offender has been locked up doesn't relieve the school of acts by its officials in harboring knowledge of the acts and not acting on it. When Enron lied to investors, the executives were punished AND so was the company since they were agents of that company. When BP has an oil spill, the captain of the boat is fired AND the company is fined for his actions. This is no different. Agents of the university both committed AND HID FROM LEGAL AUTHORITIES these crimes.

      2) The NCAA has a role because there is an ethical obligation in its contracts with universities. Football and university officials clearly violated that clause.

      3) They vacated wins for a number of reasons, including the fact that Penn State at least partially hid these crimes TO AVOID punishment by the NCAA. Had this broken in 2000, the NCAA would have enacted penalties then that would have not allowed them to go to the bowl games they did, limit the scholarships that would not have allowed them to recruit the players they did (you know, the ones that won the games), etc. By violating the rules, they were able to win games that they should not have even been playing in and ones that they likely would have lost. They tainted their entire season and so those seasons are stricken from their record from the start of this cover-up when the incident should have been reported until now.

      And that's fair.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  7. Spongebob

    Paterno is no hero.
    College sports are a business not a complement to education.
    College board of directors only care about profit and many are negligent.

    And nothing will change.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • peterblood71

      Yes. At last some punishments that fit the crimes! Organizations and companies need to have severe repercussions to their bad behaviors so they can be avoided in the first place. But the lessons of "cover-up" never seem to be heeded. Ask Bill Clinton. Just fess up and be a mensch, whether an individual or company, take the high road and you will minimize the damage!

      July 24, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  8. Rick CT

    The players who gave their all for the best possible result know the real outcome of those games (and they didn't lose 112 straight). The fines directed toward meaningful programs and lost income opportunities are appropriate, but rewriting history is meaningless and ludicrous. Only in "1984" did rewriting history have any impact on reality.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. yakman2

    once again Read the facts..........Paterno knew of a 1998 incident and was told horsing around....1999....Sandusky leaves PSU Football.......2001 incident horsing around....prosecutors said no crime occurred.....Joe Pa is not a lawyer, cop etc....What was he suppose to do...He gave it to peope more qualified then himself at those kinds of things......Everybody was fooled by Sandusky.....that's how pedophile's work.....This blaming joe is Bull!!!! Rest is Peace Joe PA...You will always be a hero!!!!! and Number 1.....NCAA using Joe PA and PSU as an escape goat....Witch Hunt...................!!!!!!!

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

      Wow after the Freeh report you still buy into the JoePa myth and believe he was not complicit? Even Joe admitted he should have done more.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Nat Q

      Read the Freeh report, it seems many Penn State officials, including Paterno, sat on very relevant facts for convenience and to keep the story from breaking. They may have had no proof, but they had enough to go to the police and yet they did not.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Andre burns

    the ncaa can't take away penn state football's wins, sorry

    July 24, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. yakman2

    Hey Sponge...Paterno is a hero and will always be.....Yes hero's have flaws....They are human...I would change many things in my life in Hindsight.........but you can't.....That's why it's called hindsight...

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

      Ignoring a child rapist on your payroll for over a decade is not a character flaw.

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

      "I would change many things in my life in Hindsight"

      How many child rapists have you knowingly hidden from police? Even kept employing?

      We're not talking about a guy who cheated on his girlfriend or claimed those sweaters he donated to Goodwill were worth $15 apiece instead of $10 to shave a few bucks off his taxes. We're talking about a guy with multiple allegations of molesting children and Paterno knew about them and colluded with other officials to keep them from police and university board members. That is NOT a mere character flaw. That is a wonton and flagrant violation of law and ethics that allowed a child predator to continue preying on children...many right on the Penn State grounds under the guise of football summer camps.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. russ

    It is such a stupid yet appropo thing to do: erase the wins (not the losses) and pretend they never happened. Yes, NCAA, pretend they never happened. Look the other way. Do exactly like Paterno,et al did.

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

      Exactly. The NCAA has been looking the other way for years and only reacting when their cash cow is in jeopardy. They don't care in the least about the victims or the full toll arising from college semi-pro sports. They are cover artists of the lowest degree.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Steve

    Oh, yeah, he was breaking the law the whole time.......... If it were you forced up against the shower wall I wonder how all these Paterno apologists would vote. Unbelievable.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. davetharave

    Players can still lay claim to the wins, Joe Paterno cannot.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Patty Kern

    If the NCAA really wanted to make a statement they would have fined them more money and given them the death penalty. That would have been a stronger message. They punished SMU in 1987 for charges of paying players and honestly what happened at Penn State University was much worse. $60 million is nothing to that school.....they could have afforded more. To all the players who played in the previous seasons......you did win and you earned your rings, awards and you will always have the memories and for those of us who watched we remember with you.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse | Reply
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