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. fay ruujin

    crickets on the subject of the abused kids here, just the same old ranting from the football is everything crowd. what a group of misguided dolts.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • county

      Oh of course you're right, the court isn't adjured on that is it? No punishment was reached and no investigation was made, right? This is an article about football so thats the discussion, you ignorant putts.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. greebo

    Poor Eugene Levy... his coaching legacy erased...

    July 24, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Bayousara

    Football as we know it should end on the collegiate level. Too many injuries that affect the players later in life. My mother, who passed away in 2010 at age 96, watched every football game on TV until about five years ago. I was surprised she quit watching and asked why. She thought football was too brutal physically and mean spirited.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jim_34

    Time to scrap the NCAA

    July 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. johnjacobjinglimer

    Yay, Oregon State actaully has a win over Penn State now!

    July 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. county

    Way to go NCAA punish a dead man. Cowardice. Punish the school, clip its football wings forever, but don't attempt to erase the past. NCAA is about as dense as a rock.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. jon

    You don't take away an accomplishment that was ultimately achieved by the players on the field over the years. That is just plain wrong. Although Paterno may have known about it, he didn't do it. He may not have been honest about what was going on but that doesn't take away the fact that he was an awesome coach. OJ Simpson may have done something wrong but that doesn't take away the accomplishments he had on the football field.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • skipper Sam

      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 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  8. sophie

    The reality is that this is not only about football, it's about money. The football program brings millions to Penn State every year. Paterno and other involved sold out these kids.They decided that this scandal would have been bad for publicity and for their bottom line. Paterno made a lot of money being JoePa. This was not all about the love of the game, it was about the love of the money and prestige the game brings. The NCAA is hitting them right in the pocket book. Maybe next time it will be about doing the right thing and not protecting the bottom line.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • emma

      100% with you...

      July 24, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Steve R.

    Paterno was in the "big chair" the one responsible for the overall program. He either chose to turn his head the other way or wasn't tuned in enough to know what was going on. If he chose to turn his head, he is just as guilty as Sandusky. If he wasn't tuned in, then he should be considered a failure as a coach and a leader. The only failure bigger is the administration and the board allowing him to have so much power. Sadly the innocent are the ones who have to really pay. Meaning the children who were abused, the football team, the students, and the fans.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Russ

    Penn State fans should be totally outraged and go picket the NCAA offices. This decision is as unjust as it would be if officials took away one hotly contested and hard won game. Think of what would have happened if the officials gave one Penn State win to a team who didn't deserve it. There would have been riots. Now, they are giving away all of their wins, all of their dedication and hard work, to the other teams for the sake of "righting a wrong". Sorry, but that is a second wrong, and it does not make it right.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. John

    >> "He may not have been honest about what was going on but that doesn't take away the fact that he was an awesome coach."

    That right there is the problem. It does take away from his awesomeness. He was not awesome. He was helping to cover up crime.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. HunterPSU

    Tough to take away games...Emotional subject that was horrible caused NCAA to act without logic...

    July 24, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. SeaDub

    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."

    What Mike Ozanian fails to take into account with his "that's a fact" statement is WOULD Paterno have won more football games than any other college coach in history had his ego not gotten in the way. And WOULD Barry Bonds have those hit records had he not taken steroids? In cases of breaking moral law, one must err and punish on the side of taking away the records.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Runner Guy

      Bobby Bowden has the most victories. He had 12 victories vacated due to a cheatign scandal. The scandal at Penn State was more pervasive and longer lasting. You can;t have it both ways. If you don't count vacated victories, then Bowden is still the winningest. If you take away the vacated wims, Bowden still has the best. Your choice.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • skipper Sam

      I thought Coach Bowden won more and then the NCAA took 12 wins away

      All you Jo Pa crybabies forget about that ?

      July 24, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dustin Goldsen

    Despite the self righteous breast beating by the NCAA there is one and only one reason for the Penn State Sanctions. The NCAA is scared death that this scandal will taint their new four team playoff which they hope will bring them billions of dollars. Their nightmare scenario would be having Penn State turn up as one of the final four in their first playoff and they are going to make darn sure that doesn't happen.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • claybigsby

      "Their nightmare scenario would be having Penn State turn up as one of the final four in their first playoff and they are going to make darn sure that doesn't happen."

      LOL Penn State isnt even the 4th best football team in the big ten

      July 24, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Pat

    The victims will always be the losers in this. The people at Penn State put their moral compass in the wrong direction to protect a game.

    July 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • claybigsby

      This has nothing to do with protecting a game and everything to do with protecting their wallets, profits and bottom line.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.