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. jim

    Hook that sh itty statue of Paterno to a Medieval catipult and drive that ph ucker into a concrete wall.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Russ

    Way too many innocent people are going to pay the price for Administrative arrogance and law breaking. This starts with the football players who gave their all, to the community that cheered them on, to the business owners who will take massive hits to their revenues when attendance is cut in half as a result of the sanctions. This was not a failure of the game. It was a failure of key people.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jonathan

      This is unavoidable if you want to get all these people mad at the appropriate targets because so far the students and the athletes have not seemed interested in reocgnizing evil anywhere within their own walls.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • NorthSide

      They all drank the kool-aide Russ

      They drank it gladly

      They should save their ire for Paterno

      There is always collateral damage

      THere are never any football victims, they are privledged people, its a game get over it

      Universities are about education not stupid football cults

      July 24, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bvilleyellowdog

    Who?

    July 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jonathan

    That is one corny looking statue. I would have taken it down on aesthetic grounds alone.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dayshifter77

    OK, here's another way of thinking about.... You want to protect the winning legacy of child molestor?!? There's not enough hard work any of those players could have done to make up for what happened to those kids.... GET YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT!!! That's what's wrong with the country....

    July 24, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • jenny

      we're ok, its either alum or current students and faculty defending that disgusting school.....we should build a wall around PS and not let anyone out.....

      July 24, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Chad

    @Broadcasting 900 former players covered up for a rapist?

    July 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • jenny

      what would the difference be to have them deny and cover it up before as they are doing current day?..after all "they are".....and "they bleed blue" makes reasonble sense the players could have known.......

      July 24, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Don Jones

    Another instance of misdirected punishment, The aid and abetors of the abuse are let off and the system is punished, This is a stupid abd anti productive act. There is no incentive for future administrators to cover up a crime just an indication they will not suffer if they do.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Russ

    Those NCAA guys in their cushy offices did not put on the pads and do battle. Easy for them to take away things that they had no stake in. It is wrong to take away the wins. Punish the people, not the history. This is no better than under Communism where they rewrote history.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • lifeknoxhard

      Russ,

      You are wrong. The only legacy that should be left for the entire team is that it was aiding and abetting a child molester. Joe Paterno and everyone else is a part of this. Even if the players had no knowledge, the few innocent people getting their record scarred no way compares to what the children suffered at Jerry's hands.

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

      The culprits are either dead or above reproach, so altering the records and similar punishment are all there is

      July 24, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • JoAparan

      BATTLE!? Are you serious? I was on the players side until I read this and other outcries. They should have stripped his name from everything, I thought. But if you saw this game as a battle then no wonder our country is winding down. It's a game, you didn't HAVE to 'fight' and it's not a battle. Head to Rwanda or the Middle East if you want a battle. Shesh. It's a game. So is Tic Tac Toe.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. fred

    It is just FOOTBALL! Why make such a big deal about a game?
    The football first culture at PSU has NOT changed.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. lifeknoxhard

    They deserve every bit of it. They need to turn in all rings, trophies, banners, etc. Covering up for child molesters is so bad that it negates any and all good that you accomplish. Good for the NCAA! Hopefully Joe Paterno is looking up here and sees what his legacy really is, that of a low life child molester accomplice.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Chad

    If a history book was published that didn't include the Holocaust, does that mean it didn't happen? NCAA can say whatever they want, you can't change the past. They're stopping extra money or the legal allowance for Penn State to advertise based on those wins, but stats are stats. He's still the record holder by virtue of facts and truth, not whatever NCAA publishes.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. john

    Not harsh enough in my opinion.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dr. SN

    How can this be an empty punishment while the civil lawsuits are still due? The step will also foster the rapid filing of civil lawsuits although it will be harder to determine whether this punishment will directly affected the Penn State coffers? Secondly, the recruitment process is likely to suffer and so is the revenue associated with ball games. Other programs at the University are also likely to suffer as part of the runaway effect. This punishment even though may not seem enough is bound to have an impact. Regardless of any punishment meted out to Penn State, the objective is how do we eliminate such an act there or elsewhere in the country at least? The fundamental thinking toward abuse has to change and should be integrated into the education system, home, school, and in society. All we can do is attempt to create that DNA thinking early on in every child or teenager and adult, however, inspection will never go away in such matters and some sort of policing is a must. One thing for sure is their keeping quiet of this incident hasn't helped them in the long run.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jonathan

    B-O-O H-O-O

    July 24, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. John

    >> "Those NCAA guys in their cushy offices did not put on the pads and do battle."

    The only battle is against Penn State coaches and administrators who let kids take the little Paterno up the butt.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
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