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. Griselda

    I'm wondering if the right people are going to be punished. With the millions of dollars in fines, loss of scholarship, loss of opportunities for the athletes, what will the school do? They could raise tuition, but with what is probably going to be a significant loss in enrollment (who would want a diploma from Penn State now – won't that look good on a resume?) a tuition raise would only decrease enrollment further. What comes next? Layoffs of innocent lower and mid-level staff who had nothing to with the scandal. Those are the people that will ultimately be punished.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Tom

    If you want to take Paterno's name off that is fine, but the wins should be allowed to remain for the players who won the games. Just strike his name from the history books.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Tammy

    This does not take away anything. THey should have taken the CURRENT football and so on. Taking back "pass achievement" can never happen. Penn State football team STILL won those games just like Vanessa Williams will ALWAYS be the first black Miss America because she won the crown even though her crown was taken.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. yup!

    Makes me sick that there are still people at Penn State who just do NOT get it.
    Football is GOD there.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • emmertdusky

      Football is GOD there??? Yup, you're the one who doesn't get it. Football (or pick s sport for each country is GOD everywhere. Save the the false indignation.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. southside mike

    Why erase all the wins? The students did nothing wrong. They played the games and won or lost on their own ability. Why punish them? An entire college football career erased, through no fault of their own.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. NewsCommando

    All I can say is to the family of Joe Paterno from grandmother to mother to wife to son to grandson Including Sandusky's family. When your day comes i hope you souls don't rest in peace and why do i go up the family line, because they gave birth or married to a dirty low life manure. worthless waste of a human.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • frespech

      Do they really let you use computers in the nut house where you are?

      July 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Chris

    Paterno has been tried and convicted based by the public based on a report from the office of Louie Freeh. The same Louie Freeh who led the coverup of FBI incompetence at the Waco siege and Ruby Ridge. I trust nothing that comes from that yahoo.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tim McCarver

      I'll bet you're looking forward to Sandusky's appeal to his conviction as well.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. northernCA

    Many of you are under the mistaken idea that most of us give a rat's behind to Penn State's football team, coach and record. We really don't care and never have cared. We however do care about the victims and Penn's reaction to the punishments as served. Man up. Is your record really ALL you care about because that's all you're talking about. Get over yourselves and share that emotion with the victims instead of your own little pity parties. Put away your tissues and move on.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • emmertdusky

      Bullshat. You don't care about the victims either.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      The issue with the NCAA removing those wins is because they (NCAA) just showed that the coach is the most important figure on the field....Those wins were won by kids who had nothing to do with this cover up and yet they are being punished....The wins/losses on the field had NOTHING to with the Sandusky issue yet the NCAA made it part of the Sandusky issue....Fine the school for not acting and allow the criminal courts to handle the rest.....

      July 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • jock

      I couldn't have said it better myself. All this hoopla over Penn States football future is disgusting, the people who continue to worry about the future of this program are mindless asses. Colleges should be solely for academic's not a place to play games with overpaid crybabies. It's about time "Happy Valley" looked to more then football for a reason for being. Perhaps they could become a model for helping students as well as victims which will provide a true and meaningful humanitarian perspective on the school instead of being know just for a mindless game...

      July 24, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ron B

    The NCAA is PROMOTIONG themselves as the good guys... They only care about their reputation. The damage they are doing will be felt for years. I am truly ashamed of the NCAA.......

    July 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Think About It

      Sigh... you just don't get it... The damage of the abused boys will last a heck of a lot longer than the damage to a football team. A football team. What a warped sense of priorities for some of you. I hope your kid gets molested.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thought About It

      1

      July 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anne

      to Ron B. "The damage they are doing will be felt for years." I'm sure it won't be as much damage as the damage done on human lives because Paterno looked the other way so his friend could abuse little kids

      July 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Think About It

    I believe that:
    1. Taking away the wins does nothing to hurt the former players, who have moved on to the pros or a life outside of football. Really, how does it hurt them? it only hurts the bragging rights of the brainwashed fans, who most likely think it's OK for other schools to have their wins taken away by the NCAA for infractions, but not Penn State
    2. It does nothing really to hurt any current player, as they can choose to keep their scholarship and not even play football (what a deal), or transfer without penalty. If Penn State is so proud of their "student" (using term loosely athletes, then said students athletes should be more concerned with the education portion. With that said, going to school for free and not having to play football would be ideal. Except wait, then they're not up on some high horse and worshipped by the town and brainwashed fans anymore. If they truly have a future in football outside of college, then transfer!
    3. Hypothetically, if the initial incident was reported and not covered up, Sandusky would've been canned, the program would've suffered a black eye, and the team wouldn't have recruited as well, and many more games would've been lost. Not 14 year's worth, of course, but still. So, while seemingly "innocent", the players were part of a lie. And again, I doubt taking away wins from former players does anything to hurt them in whatever they are doing today.
    Let it go. Move on. But don't ever forget that someone in power covered up what probably is one of the worst crimes a person can commit. And that is greater than ANY football program.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bill

      It affects them because they worked their butts off to make the team and then to win those games.....In a sense those games never happened....Punish the people who covered for Sandusky not the kids/students who had nothing to do with this....

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

    Obviously a punishment was in order, but I think it is weighing too lightly on those who created this situation, and too heavily on future students. I wish they would have directed more punishments toward the admin who turned a blind eye and did not protect the children.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. billofrights

    Wins being vacated, who cares, it is only symbolic and only tries to rewrite the legacy of Joe Paterno. But a $60 million fine, one year's football revenue, without the means of earning that revenue due to a 4 year football ban, is criminal. It punishes the innocent current and future student body of Penn State. They will be forced to pay for the atrocities that THEY DIDN'T COMMIT with higher tuition and costs. The guilty, Sandusky, and the accused, Paterno, Spanier, Curley, Shultz are long gone from the university. They won't feel this punishment. The Penn State students, past, present and future and the Penn State athletes, past, present and future are innocent victims of the NCAA molestation that just took place. Yes, molestation, the abuse of more innocent people in the name righteousness. The current and future PSU students and athletes are not guilty of allowing Sandusky to abuse children. So now in America, a non-legal body, the NCAA, is permitted to hand out rough justice on innocent people without due process of law. What have we become? None of this punishes the guilty or provides healing for the victims. It only serves to make the NCAA feel better about itself. And now the hypocritical NCAA will continue to deify the Sabans and Meyers of the college football world, just as they once did Paterno.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. mcskadittle

    His legacy now will of the man that new about the kids being molested and did nothing

    July 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Nick

    Paterno got what he deserved for placing his egotistical pursuit of football glory ahead of protecting young children from a predator – his record was tainted and required an adjustment for the conscience decision to sacrifice the future of those young men for his own distorted image. The circling of wagons around the football team also allowed players themselves to engage in unprofessional behavior on and off camput with impunity. They also gloried in being part of Penn State mystique, taking advantage of Paterno's protection. So they, too, in a way were corrupted by his misguided protectionism, and were absolved of responsibility for their actions. It is unfortunate that many were duped by his apparently benign paternalism, while Paterno hid his basic underlying selfishness behind the PSU banner.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. frespech

    If you don't like it here get the hell back to Fox where U belong.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Shawnee

      I usually don't do "attack" replies on here. But you are ridiculous. All your replies are so blatantly stupid! So, let's just try this: why don't you go stand in the EMPTY HOLE where Paterno's statue was? My only hope is that he is watching from whatever dark place he is in. After that, you can take your kids on a field trip to see Sandusky. No one cares what you have to say, I am logging off, and won't see your reply. Take that idiot. Have a great day!

      July 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
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