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. Davin

    @ Steve, college football players are not "young boys", they are men. I think this ruling will fix everything however. Especially if the NCAA finds a way to hurt as many people as possible associated with Penn State, not just the handful involved. "Justice"?

    July 23, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. gupsphoo

    Joe Paterno will forever be remembered as someone who tried to cover up for a child rapist.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. KOD

    The old sayin is 1bad apple will will make the hold bag go bad it happen 2 miami so well 2 the party PSU!!!

    July 23, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. northernCA

    I would be surprised if a former football player would place his previous winning seasons and or awards ahead of the victims. At least I hope they are able to keep the tragedy for these victims in perspective.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ryan

      What does removing the wins prove exactly? It proves nothing it only angers more and will make this entire mess drag on longer. Also how would you like it if someone erased you from history because of something you had no part in nor knew about? The NCAA has no right, pretty soon they will be as power happy as the NFL is these days....

      July 23, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ann2323

      And what good does punishing those players who weren't involved in any way actually do? Nothing. I agree with most of the sanctions but you can't retroactively change fact which is what the NCAA is trying to do. The win erasing is emotional, reactionary and has no remedial or practical cause.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mono20

      The worst thing is the players going on and tweeting it. It truly shows the culture in PSU was bad, bad bad.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lynn

    No, the sanctions do not alter Paterno's legacy. He did that himself along with the others in charge at the time.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Tony

    Sad very sad how people hero worship and still take pitty on this program. This is only entertainment and is only there because WE are to lazy. I applaud the NCAA, PSU should go back to teaching agriculture, science and history; That is more important and fundamental to our future than a football program. The staff and players knew Sandusky was doing something wrong, every small town knows everyones dirty secrets dont deny it! Shame on this school for not protecting the young, I hope this place just withers and goes the way like most places that cant keep up with future and tuens into a gost town.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Dale

    Paterno and two other university officals' conduct has cost the school millions, hurt the atheletic program, and hurt PSU's reputation Lawsuits – deservedly- to come from the visctims will cost millions more. Yet PSU has given the Paterno family a $5 million retirement package, still paying millions in legal fees for the other two employees, These extra costs will eventually come out of tuition increases to the students. Cancel the Paterno retirement, he obviousl;y violated his employment contract. let the two officals pay their own defense for the same reason, and fire Jay Paterno from the PSU football program. Put education first and the atheletic programs where they belong as a student benefit.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. yup!

    Of course, the Paterno family is biased and still focusing on his legacy. Paterno did some good things no doubt, but he also failed in one of the worse possible way and quite unethical by convincing administrators to be more "humane" with his #2 guy on the team. The Paterno family should really just be quiet and enjoy the free private jet that is part of the contract that Paterno negotiated for them while the scandal was unfolding.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mono20

      The question is whether he broke the law as a mandatory reporter. I was under the impression you had to report it the authorities.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. George Gray

    All these penalties against the university are excessive. And removing the Paterno statue is an absolutely absurd over-reaction. America has gone mad with political correctness. Yes, bad things happened, but this is nothing less than hysteria on the part of the NCAA and other authorities.
    As a Canadian I see that one of the most unattractive American qualities is the tendency toward extreme self-righteousness. Americans love harsh condemnations of any fault or crime they themselves feel innocent of. Just witness some of the ridiculously venomous comments on this Board.
    As far as Paterno's statue goes, it would be just as stupid to tear down statues of Thomas Jefferson because he owned slaves.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • yup!

      As an American, I see one of the most unattractive Canadian quality is passivity and making excuses for horrible crimes.

      July 23, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      Its to bad that Canadians come across like the French. If it wasnt for the boader of the U.S. canada would'nt even be. Just stick to your withering cou try eh!

      July 23, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ghilley

      Spot on with the self righteous argument. But his statue should be removed. Penn State should be happy they still get to make money with their football program

      July 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. genek

    Jerry Sandusky. Adolescent boys. Fourteen years. That IS Paterno's "legacy" from now on.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. R.W. Tank Ward

    Who here remembers Pat Tillman, Arizona Cardinals millionaire, under payed Army Ranger? Who paid the price for the Army's coverup? You can't build a legacy on a lie. It's the players that make the team. But ultimately, it's our coaches and commanders that have to be held responsible. Yep, there's casualties in sports. Such is life. Keep your chin up Penn State Football players.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ghilley

      Good point

      July 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. RtR

    Very sad situation indeed. I know Joe Pa is a legend like Coach Bryant is at Alabama. that said there is evidence hecould have gone through the motions to report this so something was done before it went further along. Molesting Children is a lot worse then paying a student Athlete under the table. that is why the NCAA came down so hard. Penn State Alum { including my niece and Nephew} will have to suck it up and swallow a bitter pill. Penn State is a great school and will come back strong after this....

    July 23, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. banasy©

    Do these sanctions alter the history books of PS's wins?
    Yes.
    Does it do anything to alter the history of the victims?
    No.
    Nothing will alter what that pig took away from those poor boys.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. 2020

    YES, IT HAS.

    AND, YES, IT SHOULD.

    WHEN THE UNIV EYES OFF THE BALL – EDUCATION. PEOPLE SELF SERVED, BECOME BIGGER THAN GOD.

    Penn State and Paterno KNOW BETTER. THEIR legacy? SHAME, SHAME, SHAME

    July 23, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. DR

    As reprehensible as Sandusky's actions were and the subsequent attempts to cover them up, the NCAA's erasure of Penn State's victories over a 13 year period is simply absurd and even harkens to the days of Soviet style manipulation of history and facts. It's not as though Paterno stole the play books of opposing teams, force fed his players steroids, or did anything that would specifically provide an advantage for his teams. The facts are that real players of Penn St. who toiled the entire season and who were in no way whatsoever connected to this scandal labored to win those games and as such their history deserves not to be erased or altered. It may be permissilbe to discuss the way in which the scandal severely tarnishes Paterno's legacy, but a complete modification of history over a 13 year period is itself a deplorable abuse of the NCAA's authority and serves as a bad example to the veracity of history that academia purports to teach, maintain and preserve for posterity.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • R.W. Tank Ward

      No, he just harbored the evil.

      July 23, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • cachead

      Well stated!

      July 23, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • WDinDallas

      Remember, Joe Pa is the lowest man on the Totem Pole that is being punished or indicted. And he is dead!

      The NCAA is just trying to make sure that the University Administrators are never culpable in these crimes. They want to set precedence that they can always blame Football or some other Sports program and keep an arms distance away from them and their Universities real money (endowment funds). But, they are the ones culpable here. They are the ones eager for the money college football brings in.

      Remember, the NCAA is made up of University Presidents! Not AD's.

      They need to change out everyone in the administration at Penn State and investigate them all. This extends to more than 3 people.

      If the players can go elsewhere to play football (as some have said) then the students can go elsewhere to get an education. Penn State is culpable, not Penn State Football.

      July 23, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • SK88

      The first 14 words of your comment negates the rest. The memories of the abuse at the hands of Sandusky far outweighs the memory of any football game.

      July 23, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • GatorALLin

      ...give it some time.... let it sink in..... Once you realize what an EPIC FAIL of ethics this was, then you can forget about football for a bit... but since your still not able to.... NCAA did that for you regardless if you like. accept pr understand it. Worst Ethics violation in history of sports to date. I can explain it to you again, but I can't understand it for you.

      July 23, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • charles

      Have to agree with you. Don't understand the need to fine present and future students and erase the work of past football players

      July 24, 2012 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      DR – well said. vacating the victories is wrong on every level and absolutely pointless.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ghilley

      Paterno prided himself on winning the "right way". Those wins were not achieved the right way- they were justly vacated

      July 24, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
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