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. UVAForever

    The Paterno family should shut-up and be glad the dirty old man is DEAD:)

    July 23, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. F. Alva

    What legacy??? The legacy of looking the other way!!! Quite a legacy....just shameful!!!!

    July 23, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. cliff

    Paterno (apparently) placed his football goals above those of protecting young, innocent boys. How sad..and sickening! Paterno does not deserve any special recognition for football accomplishments...in my opinion. I would hope all Paterno items are removed from the school and he is rememberd as one who condoned abuse of children!

    July 23, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anonymous

      If all paterno items are removed from the school, you would have to remove a library which he helped fund, a wing of a hospital which he paid for and you might as well take back the degrees from students he funded scholarships for. Not to mention all the millions of dollars he gave personally to various charities- might as well get that money back to, huh???

      July 23, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Genghis Khan

    Paterno's legacy would have been altered had he lived, he would have been arrested for his part in covering up for Sandusky and allowing this predator to continue use the Univeristy Athletic facilities for raping his victims long after he knew Sandusky had a problem. If Joe had said let him go, the University would have fired him in a heartbeat.

    July 23, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. eroteme

    Paterno was the same person before Sandusky's conduct became public knowledge. His character did not change, it was exposed. He had fooled everybody, nationwide, for years into believing he deserved admiration. If it had not been for Sandusky's exposure Paterno would have retained his undeserved heroic status, with people throughout the country believing he was the greatest of the great. Fortunaely, he was found out and the statue will remaian hidden for a few years until the heat dies away.

    July 23, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rachel

    Seems like the Paterno family is keeping JoPa's legacy alive with regard to denial and not taking responsibility for allowing the horrific abuse to continue. Stop making excuses. The verdict is in. Football was more important than the welfare of young children.

    July 23, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lucy

      The Paterno family is choosing the same path as Joe; money and fame are more important than the welfare of others to them. The entire estate should be distributed to the victims of the abuse he chose to ignore. Shame on them and their greed.

      July 23, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. local

    And how does mcqueary and the janitor and the DA (corbett) fill in as enablers also.

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

    Jo Paterno is the Losingest coach in the history of College athletics.

    July 23, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bman

    Dig up Jo pa! His family should be ashamed of themselves.

    July 23, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. neutron

    People seem to have missed that many of the PSU wins are tied to putting football above everything and have forgotten what PSU is supposed to be. How many wins would Paterno have had if academics, morals and ethics were followed? The stories coming out indicate that the Sandusky case was not the only disease at PSU and if PSU had done what they should have, the football team would have been knocked down a notch and the wins would not have been there.

    July 23, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. roltho6309

    The players won the games, not the coach! And to punish them by taking their wins is bogus!

    July 23, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jayjay

    Paterno's legacy is forever tarnished.

    July 23, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. john

    Joe should have been man enough to report and then fire Sandusky. He did not do his job that he was hired for. He will now be seen as something he was not. But he could have prevented all of it and he didn't so he now goes don't in history as an enabler and worse. So sad that his non action has hurt so many.

    July 23, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Q Daniels

    What sanctions have been placed against the local police dept. and DAs office or the State Attorney General's office for their failure to pursue charges at all or in a timely fashion???

    July 23, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dale

    Ask how did the football program get so powerful? The university executives and the board of trusties were all anxious to use the football program to make PSU famous, they encouraged every action. The football program brought in millions and got the university noticed. It was all about an easy ride to the top. The university is no different than any large corporation. No matter how great the workforce, the people at the top can make or break the company. If the university would have had talented exectives they would have broadened the universities claim to fame with academics, but the footbal program was such an easy ride why should they work any harder. No the blame goes though the PSU executives and the board members. They should all resign and an independent ne wboard should fill the top slots with new people. Honest people. People with the vision and the work ethic to make things happen in a great way in an honest way.

    July 23, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ghilley

      Down south we love football too...I would say moreso than the Northeast, and the programs down south do bring in money but very few actually contribute to the academics of the University. For all that Alabama has won, no one wants a degree from them...they want to play football for them. Penn is a widely respected academic university, they didn't need their football program to take the risks it took

      July 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
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