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. Will

    What legacy? PSU has been a mediocre team in a garbage conference for 20 years. Only reason Paterno had a record was because he was there for 50 years. And he willingly aided and abetted child ra pe and torture by being in a position of authority and not doing anything to stop it..

    July 24, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Wise Texan

    I'm not certain that the removal of the Joe Paterno statue, vacating wins, bowl game suspensions, and etc is actually doing anything for the actual victims of Sandusky's actions. Why isn't the $60M being given the people whom Sandusky abused? I also feel that the Freeh Report is being used against the late Joe Paterno unfairly, seeing that Mr. Paterno can't rebutt anything within the report. The wins should not be vacated since Joe "Pa" can't be given full due process of law against the accusations against him. We can speculate all we want as to who knew what and when, but Jerry Sandusky is the only person who was tried and found guilty of any crime.While I have never been a fan of Penn State I still believe in justice being done instead of knee-jerk reactionism.

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

      Well said Wise Texan

      July 24, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • dannyaosu

      I don't think the NCAA is trying to compensate the victims, and I don't think it's their job to try to do so. What they are doing is trying to make the penalty for hiding something like this so horrible to a football program, that no other college sports program will ever dream of covering something like this up ever again. They are looking forward and allowing the prosecutors and legal system to determine what is just in regards to the crime that was committed.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jp

    I'm surprised it hasn't occurred to Ozanian or anyone who supports the theory of 'psu won those games' that had the appropriate action(s) been taken in '98 the football teama would not have been the same team that they were. They would have gone through the controversy that they're going through now (although cetainly it would have been less atrocious). In this light Paterno would've been forced to concentrate on something other than his team winning, morale would've been down, recruiting would've been affected. If the Paterno and other would've had the morale back bone the odds are they wouldn't have won all the games thtat they did, but they would've been true winners in the end. Sacrificing the betterment of their "game" for the emotional lives of children instead of the other way around. Another thought if Paterno had an inkling that one of the victim would've been his winning quarterback or defensive linemean might he have acted differently? I have no doubt he would've.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Dan586

    All these supporters should have gotten in the showers with Sandusky to keep him happy. DO IT FOR THE TEAM

    July 24, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Unodos

    The history books are being corrected to reflect the truth.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. DWM

    Since the doors are open now, does this mean that we will admonist JFK and MLK for their misdeeds? Perhaps eleminate their statues and recall the good things that they did?

    July 24, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. su3385

    Anyone who can actually believe that you can "un-win" a game has lost their mind. But this the NCAA we are talking about – only one of the most corrupt, self-serving . . . . .! Did Penn State Screw-up? yes! Should they be banned from football for the next 5 years? YES! Did the NCAA its job? HE11 NO!

    July 24, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Dan586

    Adam Taliaferro@Tali43 loves these coaches so much he should have been on his knees SUCK!(*& Sandusky D&^%

    July 24, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. ncanadanow

    What is this about the fines being paid by "other" university funds rather than making the self sufficient athletic department pay for their own sins? This is bull. Staff from the athletic department created this mess (yes university staff also had a part) but why punish students who have nothing to do with the athletic department suffer for the sins of the chosen few? This just proves to me that nothing has changed at Penn State; the "anything to protect our football progam: mentality is still strong and health at dear old Penn State. Disgusting.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. DBS

    Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game. Its a game.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. phneutral

    No. It was allowing a serial child molester to prey on children that altered Penn. State and Paternos legacy.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. DN Utah 91

    They can't take away the wins. PSU won the games. End of story.
    SORRY NCAA...you lose.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dave

      In regards to the abuse, Sandusky: "It didn't happen."
      In regards to the games won, NCAA: "It didn't happen."

      More denial of truth is not what is needed here.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric the actor

      Cool story bro

      July 24, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. nostrildamus

    What if: paterno had retired at a reasonable age?

    I've seen too many accomplished business men who tried to push their retirement age into their 80s fail and become an embarrassment and liability to their company and their legacy. Now I can add Paterno to that list, something I feared all along since the first cries for him to retire in the 1990s rose up and he just stubbornly refused to listen. There were many times I saw storied break about Penn State and Paterno that made me think it was his age acting.

    The sad part is the more you push that retirement age, the more likely you are to ignore the people trying to help you.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. smarais

    I challenge anybody out there to change the past. You cant. A win was a win then. You acknowledge the harm and then get on with punishing the knowing participants – not the students not the athletes who played.Only those who knew and that you can prove knew. Posturing is not changing a thing NCAA. You are and will probably always be a bunc of bananas – all crooked, all yellow and you hang around in bunches.
    Nothing was done while playing sport and besides – it was in the open. Open your brains and correct this injustice!!!

    July 24, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. woodofpine

    Paterno's family's 'reaction' is part of the parable that was once a legacy; just like dad's was to Sandusky, their reaction is 'self-interested'. Paterno had a legacy, now it is a parable of good,and evil, and self-interest. Pride and the fall.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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