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. Josh

    The NCAA is a joke. They handed down this "punishment" without doing their own investigation and without any due process. Back here in the real world, deceased citizens can't be charged with crimes, and certainly can't be convicted and sentenced. What gives the NCAA the right to drag Joe Paterno's name into the mud without making any effort to get his side of the story while he was still alive?

    I will say that if what the Freeh report states is exactly what happened, then yes, Paterno would have been considered guilty for failing to act. But that's a big if, considering we don't have his side of the story and never will. And even if that was the case, what benefit does anyone get out of trashing Paterno after he's already passed?

    The NCAA overstepped its authority and failed to follow any due process. Stick to regulating the rules for college sports and let the criminal justice system do the rest.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. LongBeachBum

    Although sad, those wins while Paterno knew about the abuse should be stripped and erased form Pen State's books. The punishment should go a lot higher as the abuse was known by the board and maybe even higher, but their desire to WIN overshadowed their reasoning and common sense. This idea that anything goes as long as they win is crazy beyond the extreme.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. NFLD thought

    Educator, Coach and Humantarian: We now know that at least one of these traits was total BS.
    A man in his position should have said and done something about Sandusky and his actions yet he choose to remain silent.
    I guess now he will remain silent yet again and let the NCAA speak the loudest.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • scott

      Real easy to blame a dead person, they cannot defend himself. The NCAA is a joke, they love to go on witch hunts, rather then punish the people involved they punish the whole school, including teachers, students and other sport programs that had no idea. If Penn State was smart they would tell the NCAA to pack sand. We are a state supported college and do not get funding from you. Ban us from Bowl games, not our loss it the NCAA loss with out all the revenue Penn State brings to it.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. slippery

    Should have been 4 years of NO football. That would give all coaches and participants time to get off campus. This wasn't even a slap on the wrist.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. joesmith

    we are wondering why the trustees, all 32 of them are still hanging around..for there to be a clean sweep, these trustees are obligated to resign, or be asked to vacate..the new administration needs to begin fresh..we also feel compelled to feel badly for all the members of the blue band, who worked day,night, evenings to get their program correct, the dancers, the cheer leaders, and of course the young men who sacrifised, got concussions, broke legs, arms, etc., for an ncaa official to obliderate 14 years..not really a wise move..perhaps he needs to look into politics..

    July 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mr. Flexible

    This brings back memories of the NCAA Kangaroo Court that crucified Bobby Knight. Joe Paterno is dead! He can't defend himself! He is the perfect dog for the NCAA to kick around. He can't bite back.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • House

      He would have no basis to "bite back", in fact he just might be facing enough jail time to make the the prison football team the winningest in their league.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Bob Knight deserved far worse than he got.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Lord of Excess

      Sure Paterno is dead, but those victims are still alive. Bravo NCAA. At the end of the day football is just a game, guys tossing around a little ball on a field while people watch. The horror that happened under the watch of Paterno and Penn State go so far beyond that little game. Heinous criminal acts were committed for decades and largely due to the protection that the position with this school and with Paterno offered. Sandusky was untouchable and that is why this continued and was so prolific a crime spree. That warrants a punishment this severe and more so honestly. I think that Penn State and even Paterno are lucky that there weren't criminal charges filed against them, against members of the administration. Football is a game, just a game, the terrible things that went on at Penn State far, far eclipse all of that.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Indiana Joe

      What is there to defend. He knew about a crime against children, young children and hid it to protect himself and his legacy. That is not defendable.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jim in Utica

    Many comments about the NCAA punishment of Penn State may be correct when they say that the NCAA punishments do not heal the wounds caused by the Sandusky scandal and the punishments do not help to move the University forward into the future. Although I admit I am not familiar with the NCAA mission statements or the NCAA policies manual (if one exists); it seems to me that it is not, nor should it be, the jurisdiction of the NCAA to try to heal or undo wrongs which are unrelated to specific athletic events. Healing the wounds, helping the victims and moving any specific university or college forward into the future seems beyond the jurisdiction and mission of the NCAA to me.

    However, it seems reasonable to assume that the NCAA does have appropriate jurisdiction and mission goals to foster integrity, honesty and fair transparency in any university or college athletic program which seeks to be part of the NCAA system. If a campus fails to be fostered by mission statements, punishments may be needed. In hindsight it seems apparent that the athletic program at Penn State failed to live up to even low levels of integrity, honesty and fair transparency. So, the NCAA took action (the punishments) which the NCAA deemed appropriate and necessary to impact the athletic program at Penn State - and also act as a warning flag to all other campuses which may have slid down the same mind-set & athletic supremacy culture path Penn State slid down.

    In my opinion (humble or otherwise) it seems that those who defend the undisputed leader of the Penn State Athletic Program mind-set and culture, Joe Paterno, by saying that it was not his JOB to monitor, police and intervene in the Sandusky events are either deliberately or unintentionally closing their eyes to the FACT that Joe Paterno basically ruled that campus. He was not theoretically the head of the entire athletic program, nor did he have formal veto authority over Penn State administrators, nor was he formally responsible as a police official; HOWEVER, as a matter of practicality, if JoePa even hinted that he did not want something done, no one on the Penn State campus dared to get JoePa upset at them. Even the Board of Trustees would hesitate to go against the wishes of Joe Paterno - the man whose football team directly contributed many millions of dollars to the coffers of Penn State every year - and probably indirectly responsible for even more millions of dollars donated every time the team had a spectacular victory. The Board of Trustees and the university administrators and officers are always highly budget & money conscious, so expecting them to buck the man who for decades had been positively adding many, many millions of dollars every year to their beloved university is silly. It seems that JoePa actively helped sweep the Sandusky events under the rug - possibly without realizing the magnitude of the potential consequences of such cover-up; but, certainly, he should have known that using his overwhelming influence to prevent official investigations meant that HE had to deal with the situation … which he failed to do. To say that dealing with the Sandusky incidents was not his job, so Paterno should not be blamed is ignoring reality. Paterno actively and vocally insisted that HE was the only one who could discipline his football players - no one else on campus was allowed to do so … the activities of another football coach obviously were his jurisdiction too - especially on campus and in athletic locker rooms and shower rooms. While JoePa may not have put into writing a command that Sandusky must be left alone - it seems he did suggest that official reporting and investigation would not be a good idea … at the time, on the Penn State campus such a suggestion carried more than adequate weight to ensure JoePa got his wish.

    While many aspects of the NCAA punishments will be controversial, perhaps they will be adequate to ensure that the mind-set and culture at Penn State will have a chance to change. Healing of the wounds and the detailed means used to move into the future is the responsibility of the Trustees, officers and administrators of Penn State - expecting NCAA to do everything is not reasonable. Perhaps the NCAA actions toward Penn State will also keep other campuses a little better too.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. scott

    Larry, say what you want, things blow over and Penn State and Joe Paterno legacy will come back. Time erases all mistakes. So it just goes to show you Larry that you really are a clueless person. THey are PENN State

    July 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • House

      You are correct, Joe Pa will be haunting the halls of PSU for years to come, looking for the soul he sold to the god of football.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yep

      Your comment shows how naive you are. Time won't erase what has happened. Paterno put football above innocent children showing that he lacked morals and good judgement. That can't be taken back. A leader, hardly. Just think if it were your child that this happened to. You wouldn't even for a second say that his legacy will come back. His legacy is forever tarnished by his total lack of action and common sense. It's sad, but true.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Craziness

    Wonder if the pope would still be the pope if the NCAA and any sway.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • House

      Someone else much more powerful will be dealing with the Rat.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. David Hoover

    Let's not forget that Penn State is a wonderful university with a football program, not a football program that happens to also educate students. Let's not judge the entire university by the actions of a few jocks that everyone worshiped and feared...and their heinous actions.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • House

      To bad it lies on a foundation of sand. Like other universities the wrong people are being paid the big salaries and funding for atletics (football) goes before funding academics.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. james648

    Once upon a time ago, a young Joe Paterno joined Rip Engle as an assistant coach at Penn State in 1950. At this beginning.... (the life story).... and then it was until his dismissal in 2011. The End

    July 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. TwM

    To answer the question, do the sanctions alter history books on Penn State and Paterno's legacy? the answer is definitely yes. See where many wish paterno had been alive to see this day, that to me is bitter apples. Let the man rest in peace. His legacy is tarnished and his beloved football programs is torn asunder. it will be bad enough for his family once the civil lawsuits beging to come to fruition, the Freeh report has made the Paterno Estate fair game.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Norm

    Nothing is being "erased".
    This is just a lazy way of closing the books on this and moving on.
    The wealthy upper management being protected by laws that don't apply to them.
    Nothing new here.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Boodrow

    The 60 million dollar fine should go to the victims. Not one dime should go to the NCAA.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • drny

      Take a look at some of the other articles written on this. None of the money is going to the NCAA.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. forreal89

    I am glad there are so many football teams out there I will not miss Penn State. The punishment was well deserved,

    July 24, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • House

      There are too many football teams.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
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