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. John

    There is ALWAYS collateral damage when bad things happen. Ask the parents of James Holmes. But the fact that we are lamenting the 'loss' of the winning of a child's game played by college students a decade or more ago when they should have been most focused on getting an education shows that their (and our) priorities are (still) hopelessly, absurdly misplaced.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. WhackyWaco

    Pen State should get the death penalty just like SMU did in the 80's for a much lesser infraction.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Wu

    Now we treat Paterno as the criminal. The guy loves the university and his players. He took a far less salary than other big school couches, made sure his players get education and donated several million dollars to the university for education. At the same, many couches take big salary and only care about winning and treat their players like tools. Joe is a model for NCAA spirit.
    His mistaken is that he loves the university too much to treat Sandusky's problem as his own problem. Lesson learned here is do not treat other's problem as your problem!

    July 24, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • House

      Joe Pa is a criminal-after the fact. He enabled JS to feed his lust for 14 years. I cannot believe this happened in America; oh, sorry. I forgot, yes I can believe it happened here.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • drny

      Joe Paterno was in the top 5 highest paid emplyees in the state of PA.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Indyswimmer66

    Let's place the blame where it rightfully belongs. If Paterno's and/or Penn States "legacy" is damaged, it's the direct result of Paternos' and other Penn State administrators' own actions, or... non-action(s) as the case may be. They could have taken timely, decisive action to protect the children, but they knowingly chose not to. They, and the college must now pay the price for their decisions.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • House

      Joe Pa sat on his butt and allowed this to happen again-and-again. He should have gone over their heads, stright to the (regular) police and slam dunked JS the first time he had heard of it.

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

    Vacating wins as punishment for athletic misdeeds is not new or unique. Jim Thorpe's Olympic medals were taken away because he accepted money when playing baseball in a semi-pro league. Ben Johnson was stripped of his 1988 Olympic Gold and his 1987 world record for illegal steroid use. The list goes on.

    Sometimes the punishment is overly egregious and athletes like Jim Thorpe are ultimately recompensed. That is not often the case, however, and many athletes suffer the slings and arrows until they die.

    It is difficult, however, to understand the logic of the NCAA (when were their decisions ever logical?) when they punish not just JoePa (who richly deserved all the invective and more) but also the dozens upon dozens of players who, I am sure, knew or suspected nothing in regards to JoePa's misguided handling of the Sandusky child-raping. Remember, dear reader, that JoePa did not win the games, his players did.

    Strip JoePa of every placard, salute, honorarium and huzza he ever received if you wish but is is somewhat perverse to lambast those who did nothing except play a damn game better than the other guys.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dan586

    Penn State people and students are saying Joe and football are more important than children be r@ped by other coaches... I guess all these people are telling the children to take one for the team. JUST SICK !

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

      This is america, home of the gun, land of the perv.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Alex

    While sanctions against the school are important, most of these "punishments", punish the players, not the individuals involved in the matter. Fire, and indefinitely suspend all the coaches, fine the school millions, but why punish the players? What role did they play in deserving such punishment? Think what a rising Sophmore who now has to decide whether to transfer to a whole new school and take a risk on a new team, or stick with penn-state and lose all chances of ever becoming pro is going through. Those players are being punished unfairly for something they may have had no control and clue was occurring. I firmly believe the NCAA is just creating more victims of this terrible scandal.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paternal Joe

      The players are welcome to, and should, go to another school of they are simply there to play football and not get an education.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • mbdjr44

      What NCAA sanction doesn't punish innocent players? When USC was put on probation the players involved were gone. The fact is ALL NCAA sanctions punish innocent players and the players currently at Penn St can transfer to another school without penalty.

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

      Alex....your quote "

      Think what a rising Sophmore who now has to decide whether to transfer to a whole new school and take a risk on a new team, or stick with penn-state and lose all chances of ever becoming pro is going through. Those players are being punished unfairly for something they may have had no control and clue was occurring. I firmly believe the NCAA is just creating more victims of this terrible scandal."...

      What about the kids that were punished unfairly for LIFE that had no control of the sentence?...the people you talk about will move and be ultimately OK (they might have to work) and not be left with the emotional scars the real victims have. Unfortunately, the people you speak of are collateral damage of the same morons who enabled Sandusky....don't blame the NCAA.

      Believe what you want...but don't forget about the real victims.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mono20

      It needed to be harsh because of the culture inherent within PSU. It needed to break and crush the program so that it could be remolded in a totally new light. It also needed to say to other programs – if you love your football then do the right thing and be a mandatory reporter. It is inconvenient for the players at PSU, but the word will spread and for evermore (I hope) none will ignore someone like Sandusky again because in the end it will do more damage to what you believe in then you can imagine. Let this be clear – no team is too big to fail.

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

      I agree with Alex. While the NCAA has given the players an out, who is going to give them the play time necessary. These players are going to be the new kids trying to make it a new program and compete with the local star players and those that have been with the program for a while. I agreed with the bowl sanctions but not with the fines, the school will pay enough to the affected families, or the stripping of the wins. The NCAA is punishing thousands of innocent players and students that had nothing to do with the crimes for the sake of a few criminals.
      Cut Joe's statue down, limit their bowl exposure and NCAA scholarships for a time but Joe and the other leaders were not on the field taking their lumps to prove themselves and earn their spots on the team.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mono20

      @ BLT. It's about destroying a culture system, which can't be done through limiting the bowl games. The message needs to go out to all teams that if you or your organization is in any of these things then you will basically be shut down. As for the players, its part of being in a place of education, comes with the territory.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. spdrcrgol

    ncaa just turned PSU into a junior college. HOW UNFAIR!!! When Those responsible are either gone or being crimminally prosecuted. Those buildings and countless players had absolutely nothing to do with those crimes. The ncaa is out of line enriching themselves with all that money. They say is going to child abuse charities, they say. Those charitable contributions will be given in the name of the NCAA not pen state, Hmmm, nice tax benny wouldnt you say. The right things were already being done at PSU. IMHO the ncaa is just being opportunistic

    July 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nat Q

      By "right things already being done at Penn State" are you talking about the 14 years they sat on allegations of child molestation happening ON CAMPUS or way they waited until a media S#!&storm broke to do ANYTHING about it? Which one was the "right thing" that is already happening there again?

      July 24, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • mbdjr44

      The NCAA is a non profit so there go the tax benefits. As I have said prior ... show me ONE example where the NCAA punished an offending school where innocent players didn't have to pay for the sins of previous coaches and players.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • ashley

      A very small percentage of Penn State students actually participated in the "riot". Penn State consists of about 45,000 students and the "riot" was about 1,000 kids, that's a very small percentage. Most Penn State students were very angry and upset that people were rioting that night. But once again, the actions of few gets reflected on many.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Eric the actor

    I think their punishments are valid and well deserved. Unfortunate for the students and players but during all this didn't they riot at the idea of Joe leaving and not caring about the victims of the molestation that their university failed to stop. Oh that's right they did, so I think the punishment is apt until these people figure out what is really important in life.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • ashley

      A very small percentage of Penn State students actually participated in the "riot". Penn State consists of about 45,000 students and the "riot" was about 1,000 kids, that's a very small percentage. Most Penn State students were very angry and upset that people were rioting that night. But once again, the actions of few gets reflected on many.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ed

    I preface this point by saying I pray for the abused, and their families and let the Lord be the Judge. There was NO NCAA violation, this had nothing to do with the Penn State Football Program in the way it conducted or adhered to division I rules and regulations. Has it come to crucifying a deceased person? Has paterno in all letters of the law been fairly tried and convicted? It's guilt by association, it's hear say, and it not all as clear and understood as I'd care to see prior to making an informed committed decision. Pedafiles are sneaky, and I venture to say the sick excuse for a human that is Sandusky had ran a camp and snuck around as recluse as he could be. There is however facts...fact...one witness & he failed to call police immediately.!! fact, Athletic Administrator was told.!! Who runs the athletic department? who hires and fires Athletic department employees? Joe Paterno could have & should have done more as a man in this instance..yes, but did he stand trial...no. We convict and prosecute after a trial there's a verdict and the Judge issues sentence...not us, not media, not Presidents of NCAA...Judges in court....or GOD, and I'm certain Joe Paterno is facing that situation and there's not a worse seat to be in. You cannot punish a school if it wasn't an NCAA violation and based on Public opinion and threats. The Kids will suffer, the teachers will suffer, and that is not just punishment......

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

    To punish all those hundreds of athletes that played football from 1998 onward simply is not right. They did nothing wrong. They don't deserve this. Punish solely the individuals responsible with punishments that hurt them ALONE! Not the innocent players who poured out their heart and souls for their beloved team.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • mbdjr44

      By taking away the wins they removed Paterno's win record and punished his legacy since he is dead. Notice the players stats and records were not vacated. The fact is this school covered up a numerous crimes against children and the penalties are justified.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pathetic

      OK Robert, please explain how you can penalize the head coach without affecting the players who played under him? Stop whining, at least they didn't get the death penalty.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. rec

    PEDIFILE STATE should be shut down and burned to the ground! ALL WINS SHOULD BE ERASED. THE ENTIRE SCHOOL BOURD SHOULD BE IN PRISON FOR LIFE. THAT WOULD BE A GOOD START!!!!!

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

    yes.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dan586

    WOW Penn State and Joe fans are more worried about football wins then the safty of children...After some of these comments I think the NCAA should give out a tougher punishment. NO ONE AT PENN STATE HAS LEARNED ANYTHING.

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

      Right on.

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

    You go to school for an education – not to watch football games. All of this is irrelevant to the study body.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
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