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. 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 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Think About It

      And that goes all the way to Governor Corbett, who was Attorney General at the time. They all tried to cover it up.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Carol Reilly

    The witch hunt is over
    The mob got their wish
    To land a defenseless
    Carcass on their dish... Because no one would stop them No one would say There are still unheard players In this tragic play
    So they asked for an arm
    And a leg and a head
    And were given a statue
    While all our hearts bled The hypocrites blathered With hate and disdain They wanted us dead But they’ll still show our games?
    But I know they can’t kill us They can’t keep us weak We will not be cowered Because our leaders were meek
    Penn state is just football? Not on your life It’s because we are more That we will beat this strife
    The professors will research Will find the next cure The students will party Of that I am sure
    Rose’s girls will keep spiking Cael’s boys keep on pinning And despite what “they” say It won’t just be ‘bout winning
    They’ll do it the right way As has always been done They can vacate the wins But we know what we won
    Tell it to M Rob Tell it to Poz To Sean Lee and Connor Then protect your jaws
    Penn State’s about people Penn State’s about pride NCAA can’t govern What we feel inside
    They can’t kill our memories Can’t take back our friends And they can’t force our story To a premature end
    The haters can hate us Our leaders can cave But our student body Can’t be made to behave
    They’ll still dance for cancer Their studies won’t cease They will change the world If not solve world peace
    How to move forward? JoePa knows that play Written worlds only hurt If you believe what they say
    We all know the truth Where the failings occurred
    And won’t let our entire Culture get slurred
    Coach OB is staying A man with some courage Who faces a challenge And won’t be discouraged
    The fans back with a vengeance Led by a great leader Though they MIGHT be fewer The wins will be sweeter
    When each season is over And the games are all played The players can proudly say I’m one who stayed
    They’ll mean more in our hearts Than any past team Because they all hung tough When Prez Rod made us scream
    Kick us while we’re down? Do at your own risk Because we will be back Like a tornadoes’ twist
    You learn more about people When you’re at your worst low Who is behind me As I get up and go?
    Go harness your anger Let it drive you each day To keep Penn State great And make our enemies pay
    We will get our revenge When we just won’t die When we don’t limp away To our bedroom and cry
    The last chapter’s not written We still own our fate It’s up to us to decide
    ARE WE STILL PENN STATE?

    July 24, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • DavidE7

      Beautifully said! America is with you, Penn State! Punishing thousands of young people for what a few old men did is indefensible. The NCAA should be ashamed.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. sally

    I don't know whether it is possible to indict the officials at Penn State who chose not to do anything because of statute of limitation laws, but that would certainly be appropriate. I should think it is illegal not to report child abuse...at least it is in many states. Perhaps the school readily accepted the sanctions because no criminal action was taken except on Sandusky.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. M Go Blue

    Vacating the wins, I believe is acceptable. If those past athletes would have heard or known about the offences at the time they occured they may not have gone to Penn St. Penn St officials knew what would happen if this got out... The best players possible not committing to attend Penn St, therefore worse team, therefore lower income from TV and other deals that big football programs bring in. Not having the best players certainly would not have them lose all the games vacated, but they may have had a bad spell as most teams do. Lesson to all schools, don't cover up to keep your "winning" program.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nat Q

      And that is the reason. They essentially hid this incident not only to avoid legal ramifications, but to protect the program–and that means both avoiding NCAA restrictions on scholarships and bowls then AND in continuing to present a "clean" program to the world. And they did it to keep recruiting players. Who knows how many wouldn't have gone there if they'd had 20 less scholarships a year or if one of the coaches was implemented in a scandal of this nature? And that's the grounds on which the NCAA is vacating the wins. That, essentially, Penn State, as an organization, knowing cheated in order to keep recruiting the number and caliber of players necessary to get those wins–no different in outcome than bribing recruits or fixing grades to keep players eligible. No matter HOW you do it, when you cheat to get players and wins, those wins are tainted and should not count.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. WesH

    Just who did they take the wins away from? The Coach who stands on the side lines or the Players who did the work? This is ridiculous you can't erase history. If that is the case then lets just erase slavery and the civil war and we will all just get along fine! You fired the coach for not acting (he was responsible), and you have the offender in jail (he is more responsible) what do the students have to do with any of it, why punish them. I don't even like sports I do not even care about sports, but thanks to you I now have the fact that Paterno is the winingest coach in my head and you can't erase that NOW!

    July 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • terribadratings

      CNN Worst ratings in history. Serves you right for being a cesspool of liberals.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry

      I understand with and agree with your points.

      I would like to add this food for thought: The university, including Paterno, benefited from Sandusky's work, while knowing of his crimes. Why didn't they fire him? I think the answer is clear – they wanted wins.

      With that in mind, I do agree with the decision made by the NCAA.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Q

      Poor cry babies. They are lucky they even have a team. I would have shut the whole thing down. This school will be living with the disgrace of this for decades.......Party On

      July 24, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Think About It

      WesH, I understand your point... however, this sanction is more about the fact that the football program ran the school, and the football program was put above the needs of the abused boys. As such, the football program should be punished. It is unfortunate that innocent players are dragged in to it, but that is how it has been done to other college teams by the NCAA when one person was responsible. And sadly, this sanction isn't doing enough, because too many are still putting the football team ahead of the abused children. It should not be that way. if you are not from the area, you don't understand how brainwashed people in these parts are. Some would abuse their own children to protect Penn State's football "reputation", I swear. And I really believe that many are in denial, because we were all raised to believe that Penn State wasn't like those southern and western football program who always violated the rules. I mean, WE ARE Penn State and we're above that. So when the program is exposed, it goes against everything we were brought up believing in Pennsylvania. And we won't believe it. And that's sad, because football runs the school, the region, and the fans scattered all over the country.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      you're missing the point....in the future, when children who are fans of football hear about records, they won't see the name of a man that protected a pedophile for 14 years at the top of the list....they won't see Penn State's name anywhere good, and that will hinder the football-first culture that allowed this to happen. EVERYONE who thinks about bending or breaking a rule in their quest to break a record will think twice about the consequences...

      July 24, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. The Truth

    The truth is this... Joe Paterno and the other acting members of the athletics dept kept this story contained for personal gain. They all, including the young coach that found Sandusky in the locker room, had the power to bring down someone so evil and conscienceless. One call to a suffering parent or police officer and all of the men accused of this cover-up would have upheld their morale obligation to the victims and society. To all of the embarrassed Alumni who attended for educational purposes I feel sorry you have inherited this shame. To the shrouds of "die-hard" football fans angered that they cant wear their stupid t-shirts and blab on about stats and records and joe pa being the greatest of all time, maybe its time to reevaluate your life and your priorities. Maybe its time that you actually put yourself in victims shoes and remember your own childhood. I don't feel sorry for your organization or any one person from it that had the ability to end this evil "SERIAL" predator's spree. The person that defends Joe Pa as a morally upstanding figure in our society who is worthy of merit for anything more than having a great football mind should seriously consider being evaluated psychiatrically. The Truth is this.... If Sandusky had been punished for his crimes when first committed and Joe Pa and the rest of this heartless organization exposed sooner, who knows what the stats would read? After all we do hold players to a high standard of conduct and morality on campus, it should be expected from their "leadership".

    July 24, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Gloria

    They want to change the culture at the university to ensure it doesn't happen again. If they punished only the people who were already let go, then that message would not come through as clearly as it will now.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Stephany

    The fact that he allow his friend to abuse little boys seriously changes his legacy.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mr. Hand

    Ridiculous overkill. And I have nothing to do with PS. Over time, this decision will affect hundreds of people that had nothing to do with the crime. It's liike putting a whole family in jail because one member committed a crime.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • mhill1234

      Wrong comparison.
      The penalty is against the university.
      A private business would have been utterly destroyed by something like this.
      However, when something (like banks, wall street, colleges with popular sports programs) are "too big to fail", then you get the culture of corruption and power manipulation like PSU.
      If that affects the students education, then they need to find a different school to get an education.

      Sports should not be the reason you go to schools funded by hundreds of millions of tax dollars.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ivan

    The argument that the players are being penalized for the actions of the coach, doesn't hold water. If it was found the the coach (or even one of the players) was caught fixing a game, the entire team is penalized. Any wins/loses would be erased from their records. This is simply follow the same logic.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  11. oldguy

    The actions of some of the coaches and university officials was hideous and should be criminally punished. However,
    the NCAA went way beyond the pale, as usual they are punishing the WRONG people. Those games were played and
    won by players that had nothing at all to do with this hideous behavior, why are they to be disrespected and dismissed?
    The fine is excessive in that those who will be punished is again the innocent athletes that participate in other sports that the football program supports. These actions by the NCAA simply prove again their inability to regulate and their
    irrelevancy to the current situation. The NCAA is simply wanting to appear relevant and support their beauracracy.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. USER-301

    Since they are going to wipe the history slate clean, I guess they will be getting my bill for all the games I attended and paid good money to see that actually never happened. Just because a couple of bad apples were hanging from the tree, that shouldn't give anyone the right to not only cut down the entire tree but also dig up the ground that nourished the roots. For the record, I am talking about the school and not that statue that should have never gone up anyway.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Syxx Sense

    Life is not fair and sometimes innocent people get caught up in the bigger picture. The University decided the football program and legacy were of more importance than outing a child rapist. Whatever Paterno was associated with at Penn. State would have to suffer and sadly that affected hard working students and athletes.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Think About It

    Who really hurts from having wins "taken away"? The fans. Those players are doing other things now and the win record is not going to get their job, spouse, children, etc. taken away from them. It's a friggen record on paper. Who cares? If those of you still want to believe, then believe. I'm sure the fans from the other colleges who've been sanctioned by the NCAA still believe their records before NCAA stepped in. Penn State isn't the first to have this done.
    So, suck it up fans. It's a college. That is where people should go to get an education and feel protected by adults. What warped priorities... when you'd whine about a win/loss record above the horrible things that happened there and where covered up.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jokepa

    Who cares about these football games? Who won? Who lost? Grow up kids.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
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