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. Dale

    Pat Tillman was a true HERO. He left his millions behind to defend his country and his brothers in arms. Joe Paterno even at the end was filling his own pockets. What did he negotiate for the victims?

    July 23, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • R.W. Tank Ward

      OK, someone is finally getting the analogies. Have you been recruited yet?

      July 23, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Al

    60 million, that's one games beer sales !!! What a joke, lol

    Should have closed down the entire football program.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • john

      Yep. We should kill the school's profit. Honestly, a history teacher could get bigger crowds than a football team!

      July 23, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ghilley

      At least they should know that this was an option, and be thankful that they get to watch games this fall

      July 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      They don't serve beer at Beaver Stadium. Glad you are so informed with your facts.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ArtInChicago

    Let the name of Paterno be stricken from every book and tablet. Stricken from every pylon and obelisk of Happy Valley. Let the name of Paterno be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of man, for all time.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • NCAA hurt all the remaining innocents

      what a moronic comment.

      July 23, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Hope

    It's obvious. Penn State has washed its' hands of the whole situation in their agreement with the Big Ten... but, shouldn't the matter be put to the courts before Penn State agrees to sanctions? I mean, what happens if the University washed their hands (with the hands that scrutinized their football team) and all that's left for the victims is a bankruptcy notice.

    Where does the 'LAW' stand on this issue?

    July 23, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. R.W. Tank Ward

    Please, let's not use any 'kill' terms even in jest. Time to tone this conversation down!
    R.W. Tank Ward
    LTC, Retired
    US Army

    July 23, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. NN

    The NCAA are impotent worthless paper-pushers. PSU wins still stand, they are still a winningest football program, and Paterno is still the winningest college football coach of all time. These are unofficial designations now, and nothing NCAA does can change what has happened in reality..

    July 23, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • NCAA hurt all the remaining innocents

      Correct one cannot rewrite history, and one should not try. This PR attempt accomplishes nothing - and noting should be taken away from the innocent athletes who earned those wins - This is way way outside the scope of the NCAA's authority..

      Sure, fine the school and make them pay for programs –but stop it there. Punishing innicent people is not the answer.... never has been and never will be.....

      July 23, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pg

      ..and the record will be recorded of paterno being an wider and abettor of molesting children... And nothing will take that away

      July 23, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really Jersey

      Riding to victory on the backs of sodomized children is not winning NN. You are delusional.

      July 23, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dale

    History is full of great men who have done both good and evil. It is always the writer of history to put forth the person we see. Seldom are the victims of these men's evil much more than a footnote in history. Unfortunately, the innocent will suffer for the sins of evil men who are left to go unchecked.

    PSU had a sickness, a cancer, that needed removed. The NCAA penalties are harsh, but the PSU culture needed healed. Like a cancer remove all traces and give the body the opportunity to heal itself.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. leftywriteagain

    I was shocked to hear that the assistant coach who saw Sandusky raping that kid, didnt physically confront the situation. That he reported it the next day, shows the level of authority football wielded at PSU.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • NCAA hurt all the remaining innocents

      NO it ONLY shows that Mcleary was weak and cowardly Had this guy broke that incident up in 1998 and decked Sanduskey in the shower, this all stopped in 1998 - I caNNOT BELIEVE THIS COWARD IS STILL AT PENN STATE

      July 23, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. BobZemko

    There are more important things to put in a history book than a university football coach.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Dale

    Recruited? No SIr. Sgt. USMC Viet Nam
    Honor all the way.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • R.W. Tank Ward

      Sempre Fi my friend. Not the place for my 30 years.

      July 23, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. NCAA hurt all the remaining innocents

    This does not change a damn thing - Paterno is the winnignest coach –wish he was hear to respond to the allegations, but he is dead and cannot defend himself or get due process – Freeh refused to answer questions form the Paterno family so there was NO due process here at all

    The punishment is DUMB – all it does it hurt the innocent --

    This is all a big media show put on by the NCAA tring to polish their greedy grubby image - it does not do that....

    July 23, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tony

      Spoken like a true enabler, pathetic how some of you hold on to this rediculous record. It shows that unfortunatley that is all your lifes work is for, sad very sad. What did JOE FREAKING PA do for your unwavering devotion? You people Re pathetic and if you have a college degree that is even more sad.

      July 23, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • ArtInChicago

      Talk about a moronic statement. There is no innocent here. Due process? This guy was a state employee till the age of 84.

      July 23, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian R

      Without a doubt, these sanctions are ridiculous. You can thump the individual(s) for what it is worth but what is the point of taking away something that students and athletes have earned; why create a pall over the heads, athletics, and academics of future students?

      It is mostly agreed that PaPa was somewhat complicit with what happened....lay it on him; lay it on the individuals that were involved......or should I say NOT involved.

      July 23, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really Jersey

      The innocent football players who should not have been playing because their academic standing was not good enough? Perhaps it was the innocent football players who played after a brawl that left a victim unconscious, Hmmm? Maybe it was the innocent football players who rioted instead? Innocents(snort)! The only innocent on campus was in the shower stall & he cannot even remember what happened after Sandusky lifted him up.
      Robbing children of innocence, & robbing other teams of victories. Just shameful.

      July 23, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. batjones

    The NCAA needs to go back to school 'cause it's done lost its mind. I do not find the correlation between a football coach abusing children and grown men winning football games. If this be the case, why not erase the halftime shows of the PSU marching band going back to 1998? The clarinet section had just as much to do with the actions of Sandusky as the defensive line – nothing. Eventually the big time football programs will create their own athletic league. Bye Bye NCAA.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Andy Daniel

    This sounds like the Citizens United ruling – corporations are people and therefore Penn State must be punished for it's transgressions.

    The reality is that the transgressors are either dead, in jail, or facing prosecution. The players who won those games did nothing wrong. The current players did nothing wrong. The fans did nothing wrong. And the $60M fine *and* loss of a huge amount of future ticket sales may end up coming out of the pockets of parents of future students as thw school will have a budget hole to fill.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. R.W. Tank Ward

    Out here. The Stupids have landed. Thanks for the positive comments. Again, my heart goes out to all of the Penn State community that had nothing to do with all this mess and have been effected.

    I always told my be soldiers, 'Choose your friends early and wisely. I know them better than you.'

    Roll Tide

    July 23, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Robynware

    Everyone who witnessed abuse of those children and failed to report it to the police is at fault. Why did they feel the proper method of notification was to report the abuse up through the football ranks? Here's a simple process that any adult with morals would have used... 1.Stop the abuse immediately by confronting the abuser 2.Comfort the child 3.Call 911. I am amazed that none of these people were able to follow these simple rules. Shame on them.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • local

      Doing that would take common sense. Evidently mcqueary and that janitor were lacking both (only two eyewitnesses to anything).

      July 23, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
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