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. Zman1978

    Completely ridiculous to take away all the wins

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

      No it is not. Paterno was just as guilty as Jerry for covering it up. His only legacy is helping a child molester. Who cares about football wins when kids are getting molested. The state should shut down the entire football program, if not the entire athletic program at PSU.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. EdT

    After all the tragedy, all the drama, all the pain this overall story has generated over the past year, the one thing that makes me continue to worry about our culture is how we fail to focus on the things that really matter and lay blame where it truly belongs instead of sideswiping innocent people along with the guilty in the name of expediency and media posturing. In this instance, the NCAA is electing to punish a long list of hard-working young men instead of surgically focusing their attention on the select group that were responsible for the tragedy at hand. Hasn't this story been all about innocent young boys and men being abused by an individual and then the system? Isn't the NCAA just perpetuating the same dynamic by their decision? I say let the men who played and worked so hard for so many years retain their pride and dignity in their accomplishments. Let history applaud their successes. Leave the past stand. Focus instead on the future so no similar occurance can ever take place at Penn State again.

    And for those who might suggest I don't understand the gravity of the situation, I too was molested as a child so I have first-hand knowledge of the pain, thoughts and feelings that go into this topic. I keep my judgement for the perpetrator of the act, not those that naively looked the other way as is happened. Their error was human nature not wanting to see, not wanting to confront, and not wanting to judge those they came to trust and love. There's is an error of ignorance in a sea of conflicting priorities. I imagine many in the world would face the same dilemma and choose poorly. As they say, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone". While many are currently picking up nice big juicy rocks, remember, for each area in which you think yourself so pure, there may be people picking up stones against you for the areas in which you're not.

    As for Joe Paterno, he was a great coach who accomplished great things for Penn State and his teams. He deserves the recognition he earned in those areas. He was obviously not a saint, Whenever did he say he was? It was the media, the fans, the culture that painted him as one. OK, lesson learned; no more idolizing normal human beings and portraying them as otherworldly when they've done nothing to prove they are. Accept and recognize their talent, their greatness for what they've done and move on. It's safer that way and less prone to long term disappointment. The majority of heroes ultimately prove they are simply human. Can we truly expect anything more?

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

      Well done, sir.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    They took away the wins dating back to the 1998 case. Sure, that is one way the NCAA punishes. However, the police investigated the 1998 case and it was brought to the DA who chose not to prosecute. What did the NCAA expect Penn State to do at that point? I understand Penn State failing to do enough in 2001, but not 1998.

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

    When Enron was closed down there were a lot of folks lost jobs that had nothing to do with the companies illegal woes. That is just the way it is. You chose to go to that school so if and when it fails, you will be affected.

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

      That would make sense if people knew what was going on the whole time. Isn't part of the outrage that those in leadership positions kept it hidden as best they could from everyone? i don't disagree that you get stuck with the reputation that "your school" earns. However, it sounded like you were saying – they knew what they were joining so the students can't complain...

      July 24, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Robin

    I feel Paterno could have done more. The man is gone – let him RIP. As far as Sandusky – please put him away forever. He doesn't deserve to be among the people. Former President Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz – they need to be convicted and spend each and every day, for the rest of their lives, helping abused children. I feel they don't deserve to hold a job and get paid thousands of dollars. I feel each man needs to pay back their salaries, from 1998, to the families of these abused young men.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. TiredODaCrap

    ***Looking for an actual answer here***
    Why did Penn State take the football players off of the wall with the Jo Pa statue? Were they somehow physically connected? Just never have seen a reasoning behind that. Would have assumed that they could have left up the statues of the players – who had nothing to do with this whole thing....

    July 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • jenny

      maybe they did, you mean to tell me after 900 players, no one "had the feeling"? yes, probly alot of them did, and probly most knew of the cover-up....just like now, they were proecting their program just like their leaders....bet some had adult realations w/ sandusky and peterno, but kept it quiet because they were the special players

      July 24, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Greg

    PSU athletics should have been shut down FOREVER. A message needs to be sent academics is far more important than athletics. Since PSU is part of the BCS (Basically a Criminal System) football group, it will in four years just return to its evil ways...

    July 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • DaButter

      @Greg & @jenny Your combined ignorance knows no bounds.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jay G

    Of course they do. But Paterno's own actions to cover up the predator in his midst.. and in fact to enable that behavior by giving him access to the program and keys to the shower facilities... did far more to alter his legacy. JoePa was a horrible person.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jack

    only thing to alter this pedophile enabling dude in hell from memory, is to shutter the doors at penn state university.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Abbeystone30

    Let's rewrite the history books to get rid of the NCAA instead. They can't "erase" legitimate wins, and they have now just become another national embarrassment.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • rkdres

      Silly you, the NCAA should be applauded for putting into perspective what really matters, and not your dumb game...

      July 24, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brainmuffin

      Agreed

      July 24, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. miamishield

    Perhaps if that university would have been focused on academics and not some stupid game played by a bunch of meatheads this wouldn't have happened.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ann2323

      If they weren't focused on academics at all they wouldn't have consistently been ranked among the top 100 universities year after year. They dwarf many schools in academics. Do your research before you make such baseless claims.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • bob

      you are either a girl or a nerd or a girl nerd. but i do agree with you wholeheartedly.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      Ann2323
      You and PSU need to thank the students that are NOT on sports teams for that.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  12. northernCA

    I remember how Penn State reacted to UNC's 16 wins from '08 & '09 being vacated and how Penn argued on their behalf that those wins would never be forgotten. Yeah, right. Quit the pity party, put away the tissues and stop being so hypocritical and two-faced.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kevin Williams

    The individuals responsible are currently in the criminal justice system, so they can't be punished any further by the NCAA. What that body is doing is making a statement (at long last) about the culture of football that exists in far too many places in this country. Yes, absolutely the program must be sanctioned, and sanctioned severely, so that in the future the men that replace those currently under indictment understand that the purpose of a university is academic acheivement, not athletic acheivement. Too many people forgot that for far too long. Will the Penn State football team survive this? I don't know, and frankly I don't care. That place was corrupted to the core, and it's possible that it can't be made right...

    July 24, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mike

    We need to be punished because there was no effort in leadership to LEAD any kind of reconciliation, or effort to make amends for what we did wrong. We could have made voluntary pledges in the millions. We could have given a year's football profit to the victims as settlement. We could have announced a 3-7 point plan on HOW we will change and what difference we will make nationally. We could have turned it around and become a national leader in child abuse prevention/awareness. Instead we stood by and just took the punishment. We needed it, because our leaders weren't doing it, or were to slow to move. 9 days to determine an obvious choice on the statue? Just because we have now been punished doesn't mean we still don't need to lead. The nation watches us defend ourselves, and attempt to minimize damage... we should be apologizing and making a drastic effort to impact child abuse prevention ON OUR OWN... not accepting some silly fine from another organization which is littered with corruption of its own. We are being punished, and will continue to do so because we have not yet learned our lessons. Someone needs to lead.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Me

    If not for NCAA sanctions, Bowden would have kept the record. Paterno only got it because the NCAA took away 12 games from him.So who is really the record-holder?

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