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. Mark

    I'll just say this .... It's jacked up that they are taking away wins from the team. The team did the work the coaching team were the perverts. So with this in mind taking away wins from the guys that did the work and put up with abuse is jacked up. It's like punishing the victims. What they need to do is to essentially punish the system that created this problem .... Oh, but that would mean they would be creating an environment where revenue for the school currently would decrease .... Wouldn't want to do that ...

    July 24, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  2. Laurie Anderson

    How can you "take" wins away? The games were played, Someone (PSU) won them . By taking the wins away, you negate the efforts of the players before and after those games. It seems to me to be a really stupid decision, and punitive. I agree with the other sanctions against PSU, but taking the wins away is pointless.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  3. Say What?

    "But he won more games than any college coach in history. That’s a fact," Forbes writer Mike Ozanian wrote.

    No, that isnt a fact...it might be your OP, but it isnt a fact. As long as the league, to which one belongs to, says it doesnt count, it doesnt count, period

    July 24, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  4. bag o chips

    I believe taking away all those wins would make McQuery the last starting qb to win a PSU Football game.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  5. Mallory

    They are also taking away the wins from the players that played and won. I realize the coach has a lot to do with it but the players also are part of it. It punishes innocent players that should have their wins noted.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Sorry Mallory, but if Joe Paterno was found to be materially cheating (say, by stealing opposing team playbooks) it wouldn't matter how hard the players had worked for their wins, they would still be invalidated even though the players had no say in the matter. If anything, this is worse than cheating.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Al

    They should have expelled Penn St from the Big 10 to send a message of non-tolerance. Now the Big 10 has TWO schools under sanction. By the way, SEC Fans, three of your schools are under investigation...

    July 24, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  7. Duke Nukem

    PSU Boo should've have gotten the death penalty for at least 4 years, but with minimal fines. By having no football program at all, that school would have been better able to exorcise all the demons of a football culture that was above reproach. The punishment PSU got instead will do very little to change the hearts and minds of the current corrupted student body, let alone the die-hard perverted alumni. After all, they will still be allowed to field a football team they can root for. Maybe not a good one, but a team nonetheless.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      Punishing the children for the sins of the father. What's next revoking the college degrees of those that graduated during those years? Those football players probably had no idea what was going on.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bob

    Penn state is the Devils school...all assocaited with it are evil.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • frespech

      And everyone associated with Bob are idiots.

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

      WHAT ARE U SMOKING??

      THE STUDENTS AND PLAYERS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. THEY ARE BEING PUNISHED TOO...

      SO IF YOUR FAMILY MEMBER DOES SOMETHING BAD YOU ARE BAD TOO?

      July 24, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Pinchshot53

    How do you former players feel about JoePa being a hypocrit? Preached doing the right thing ... blah blah BS ...

    July 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mike

    The whole school is being punished because of the actions of a very few. The football players had nothing to do with this but they are being swept up in this frenzy. What Paterno did was wrong, but saying that 15 years of victories never occured sounds like some edict from the leader of a totalitarian nation. If you want to impose sanctions on a going-forward basis, fine, but you can't change the past.

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

      waaaahhh!!! Waaaaahhhh!!!! Boo-hoo you pedo phile apologist

      July 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Yes, but the "very few" included the four most powerful people in the university.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Earthquake Ethel

      Unfortunately, life is not fair....

      July 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. BigAl

    too bad and don't care. a consequence of letting football run the university and oh yeah, condoning child abuse

    July 24, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. John Foff III

    Joe Paterno was not about his wins. What is missed and muddied by all this is that Joe Pa while coach at PSU actually stood for academic excellence. He enforced rules on his players to be good citizens, clean cut, respectful people. He encouraged them to take classes and do well. He kicked great players off his team constantly for bad behavior and for not performing well in the classroom. Joe's lack of enough action was not about protecting his wins or the Football Program, if anything his lack of enough action was about a man he coached, coached with, and was seen as hit mentee. Like it or not but that is the truth. Everything written from people outside PSU don't understand. It was never and has never been just about football wins. It has been about winning with integrity, which PSU and its players did. They never cheated.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Not reporting a child rapist so that he could keep his Assistant Coach does not make Joe Paterno a man of integrity.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay Stevens

      Kicked people off the team for bad behavior? So, he was OK with the abuse? If he was indeed all you say he was, he should have kicked the pedophile out long ago, taken a stand against those abuses, and, ultimately preserved his legacy. He got the legacy he deserved, protector of a pedophile.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. mr. sardonicus

    the "death penalty" should be given postumously...er, um...wait a minute...um...oh heck...

    July 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. frespech

    Joe Paterno is guilty of nothing. The football players at Penn State are guilty of nothing. Way to go NCAA(GESTAPO)

    July 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. WE ARE - delirious

    How can all these PSU defenders argue that Paterno is the all time winningest coach, completely disregarding the victories taken away from him by the NCAA, and at the same time argue that Bowden is not the alltime winningest coach because he had 12 victories taken away from him by the NCAA? Either way, Bowden, not Paterno, is the alltime winningest coach in NCAA history.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
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