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

    The NCAA is not re-writing history. They are just placing asterisks saying "this team was coached by a pedophile"

    July 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Clive

    Poor Penn State. It seems like everyone is concerned about the sanctions levied against Penn State. its too harsh, what about the players what about the record , what about Joe Par's legacy.
    Well my friends Penn State brought this on themselves. Just like the Catholic Church Penn State officals showed litte or no concern for the victims. Penn state was more concerned about the image of Penn State and its multi million dollar football enterprise that they decided that the poor young mend were expendable threow away kids who could be swept under the rug rather than taking the hit and doing the right thing and going to the authorities way back in 1998.
    Rather than doing that they decided to push Sanduski out the backdoor and blackmailing him from taking another coaching job anywhere.
    The coverup is always worst than the crime. As Richard Nixon. I will shed no tears for Penn State and Joe Par and Joe Par's family. The NCAA is hitting where it hurts must in the pocket book and to all the Penn State apologist I ask What about the abused youth? Who speaks for them?

    July 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. HenkV

    Nothing will ever erase the Penn State legacy. Oh, you're talking football? Who cares about football after what happened.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Dan586

    DID ANY OF THESE PLAYERS OFFER TO GET IN THE SHOWERS WITH SANDUSKY ? No they think it's O.K. to let little boys to do it. GO TEAM

    July 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      You are clearly ignorant. None of the players had anything to do with this. And the current players today were 8 years old during all of this.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. FLT

    I'm sorry for the players who are penalized, but these tasteless Twitter comments show the root of the problem. It's not all about the players, glory and football (although of course the players have the right to be disappointed). It's about the fact that there was a massive cover-up. Penn State deserved what they got. The players are collateral damage and STILL aren't blaming the right people.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • k

      Here, here! Well said.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Adam T already broke his neck playing for Penn State and worked his a*s off before that to try and win. I think he has already had enough "collateral damage" and his wins should stand.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • PedosWorstNightmare

      Hey, Steve.... Adam T should've just went to class... I'd feel bad for him if he broke his neck while reading a textbook. Don't care that he broke his neck playing a game when he was allegedly there to learn, if he wants to defend these guys and worry so much about his wins maybe someone needs to break it again for him...? Now go report my comment, whiner.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. PedosWorstNightmare

    Soooo sorry that a bunch of athletes are hurt over their wins being taken away... boo effffin hoo... These "boys" are not gods... not even close. They're not even intelligent beings, they're mutants who run after a ball because a jerk like Paterno says "go get it, boy". And for this we give them money, fame, a pass on just about everything and then hand them degrees they never earned. They should feel extremely lucky that wins were the only thing "taken" from them.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  7. k

    "College sports", like a cancer, should be surgically removed from it's host (the university system) so that universities can proceed with it's actual/fundamental job of education. In the process, the university system would successfully extricate itself from all of these (and many other) problems associated with college athletics. I know, I know. People will say ... but what about the revenue that sports brings in. Let me tell you, as a university professor, I know that none of that money ever makes its way to the academic side of the house. It all resides in the athletic department. As such, cutting athletic programs wouldn't harm universities one bit.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • cleareye1

      It probably would be best if the NFL drafted kids as early as they wanted to. They could then have a minor league system they could control and make money from. Universities can then concentrate on what is important.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Broadcasting

      Thank You!

      July 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Broadcasting

      k, Thank You!

      July 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jsmoulder

    Joe did not molest any children, he reported to who he was suppose to. Do you take the wins away from the players too? How stu pi d the NCAA is.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Broadcasting

      You need to read the E-mails in the Freeh report which was requested by PSU.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • cleareye1

      Would anyone be shocked if Paterno and the university president were all in a pedophile ring? Not in these times.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan586

      Scientist, Doctors, etc should be paid 2 million a year while athletes are paid 20 to 30,000 per year

      July 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Don

    This is not fair to the players whowon the games. They were not responsible for the abuse

    July 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Broadcasting

      The players did participate in the riot. PSU needs changes BIG time.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. emmertdusky

    All can write to M(oney) Emmert at memmert at ncaa dot org. Take the time first to read some of the things posted on their home page and contrast that to their actions. Scroll through the State of Association. Judge for yourself just how much hypocrisy is in there and whose interests they're looking out for. Determine for yourself "whose in charge" amd if this guy and his collusionists are deserving of the power they're attempting to grab. Above all, ask yourself if they are qualified to determine what the ultimate body count is from this debacle in the face of so much unsettled business and so great a vested, monied interest.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ManWithThe1000PoundBrain

    What happened was terrible and the sanctions are totally understandable... except for the erasing of a decade and half of records. Really? Altering the record books? Is that, "fudging" the record books, really the moral and ethical thing to do? Now everyone knows that the records are really NOT the records. They are a big fat lie. Makes absolutely no sense at all. Ridiculous.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. dot8

    They should tear down the university and use the land to built a zoo.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • emmertdusky

      You could be the first donkey.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  13. John

    "This is not fair to the players whowon the games. They were not responsible for the abuse"

    True, but the blame goes to Sandusky, Paterno, McCleary, and so on. If the coaches and administration cheat the whole team loses. Even those who didn't directly participate in the shower room raping.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dean

    NCAA did the right thing; certainly w/ respect to JokePa and his wins. Maybe not the perfect thing, but something within the reasonable standard of options.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dan586

    Based on all these TWEETS Penn State should be closed for good.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bystander

      YOU ARE AN IDIOT!!!...Where did you go to school?...oh wait probably didn't with that ridiculous answer!

      July 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
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