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. william marcy

    What legacy?

    July 25, 2012 at 7:47 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Mickey

    Almost – almost all points made have merit and validity. The NCAA didn't get it all right, obviously. I agree the strongest with the fact that – so far – the ones (without cajones) responsible are not – so far – being held accountable. But there is definitely substance in the rulings and sanctions. Most of all, I hope those "educated and elite" men (?) – Spanier, Curley, Shultz, etc. – aren't granted the privilege of money-making books, speaking engagements, etc. Vacating the wins is an empty sanction. Paterno's family, along with many, many others KNEW at the very least that there was something very wrong with Sandusky's activities. Eyewitnesses were there and "talk" is spread and there were many who had some inkling of his behavior – but the silence prevailed. Too bad – it just added to the number of victims. And the victims and future protections should be the focus – not whether or not Paterno's "legacy" is tarnished.

    July 25, 2012 at 9:37 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. rockysfan

    No, sanctions won't alter Paterno's legacy. Paterno did that all by himself when he chose to put football above the innocent children that were being molested by one of his coaches. THAT is what altered Paterno's legacy and he did it all on his own. Now, had Paterno been a real man, he would have turned that disgusting pedo in and dam the consequences to football and Penn State. But Paterno did not do that now, did he? No, he acted like the coward that he was at the core and let the children fend for themselves. One can only hope he is getting his just reward in the next life, h e l l!

    July 25, 2012 at 9:46 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Tom

    This is not a football story. It is a story about immoral men conducting criminal acts against children. Sandusky is a monster and Paterno knew that and allowed him continue his predatory behavior. That is his only legacy.

    July 25, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Leon Harner

    What's next for McQuery, is he still going to coach!?!

    July 25, 2012 at 10:33 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • jenny

      he packed up his family and house and left....he's gone....he left 7/22

      July 25, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  6. tacostand

    Paterno was a dirtball for manipulating the Penn State system and consciously allowing Sandusky freedom to continue his predatory behavior to protect the Penn State football program. Penn State got off easy. The NCAA should have permanently killed that program in light of the obvious and egregious cover-up that destroyed the lives of many children who were already at risk. Paterno is a loser and anyone who feels the need to defend that creep can suck it.

    July 25, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Can Read

    DId anyone actually read the Freeh Report? After the 1998 incident, Child Protective Services were notified/involved as well as police ... it was the DA that decided that no charges could be brought at that time. Once a DA decides that there wasn't enough evidence, what do people expect those involved to do??????

    July 25, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • jayman419

      Cooperate.

      July 25, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joanne Brady

      Go back collect evidence, how hard to figure out is it. Abuse; it's everyone's problem.

      July 25, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Did you read the report? After McQuery, or whatever his name is, reported the shower incident later, the president and other officials were going to call the police and paterno talked them out of it. It's too bad he's not alive to see his meaningless "wins" stripped. What will hurt his legacy though is his complete moral bankruptcy. There have not been enough sanctions on Penn State; this is a major American university that failed absolutely in its moral obligation. I can't believe there are still people defending paterno and believing Penn State is still in happy valley.

      July 25, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. bigdil

    I see it a little differently. Penn State's failures, which were terrible, are simply not a violation of NCAA rules. I think the sanctions are primarily PR posturing by the NCAA, who as no business in this arena. The NCAA merely wants in on the act and wants to expand its power. They know that Penn state is in a weak position to resist them.

    July 25, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Bernie

    409 HAS BEEN, IS, AND ALWAYS WILL BE #1...and until someone in Div. 1 comes along and wins 410 games Joe will ALWAYS be the winningest Div.1 coach. You want to put a star, an asterick or a wavy line next to it, well so be it, but as much as the NCAA and the media and idiots in general try, no one can change the truth. So if all you haters want to believe that 2+2=5, or that the world is flat or that fire doesn't burn...go ahead and knock yourself out!

    July 25, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • jayman419

      Did you read the article? If vacated wins count, that other coach has 412.

      July 25, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • dakjr

      Joe is and always will be winningest coach. Bowden lost wins for playing with ineligable players. Penn State never had a issue with ineligible players (poor acedemics, payed to play or any other problems). Penn state actually has one of the highest graduation rates in athletics. You can erase a book all you want. I have tapes of all the games. You are not going to tell me that the players are just a figment of the imagination. Program will not be hurt that bad. Penn state still has an awsome program with a reputation of sending players to the NFL.

      August 1, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Donna

    This will not change anything about his ability to be a great Football Coach. Seems to me they went WAY to far in trying to change history. I understand the other sanctions, but this one makes absoutely no sense to me what so ever. What happened on the field happened and should be left alone....you can never change history, no matter what.

    July 25, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. fay ruujin

    I'll bet $100 that the lame Penn fans are already pooling their money to build a bigger statue to worship their god of football. that is how Fed up their priorities are. And the rest of big school football nuts are saying good thing Jerry didn't work at their "college"

    July 25, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Seth

    Over the passage of time, cooler heads and common sense will pervail and the vigilante justice being imposed and urged by half-wits today will be replaced by wisdom based on facts and truth. Joe Paterno's legacy and his statue will be restored. Using Paterno as a scapegoat and punishing hundreds of innocent students and athletes is not the act of man seeking justice, it is another Salem witch hunt fed by the ignorance.

    July 25, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Whome

    Absolutely not if you got you as _ kicked by PSU you got your as_ kicked, saying it didn't happen doesn't make it go away. By the way that goes for their win and loss record also.

    July 25, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Jim Hunter

    The NCAA did the right thing and in my opinion didnt do enough; the school should have been fined 30 million per year for each year they enabled the pedophile ot do his evil and nasty deeds...yep I say 390 million and a return of every scholrship for every year they allowed that creep to do his dirty deeds. I would have banned the team outright for four years as well. Face it if JoePa IS Penn State then Penn State IS Pedophile State. Death Cheated Paterno out of his Jail Cell for being an Accessory to the Fact of the crime. PSU you got way less than you deserved.

    July 25, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. bob

    The football culture IS at fault. Yes, individuals who covered it up, but that didn't happen in a vacuum. They covered it up for a REASON. The reason was Penn State football. And I would bet it goes deeper than the Freer report shows. PSU chose to accept the verdict too quickly for there not to be something deeper going on. Go back and re-watch the ESPN interview with Paterno about the 46 arrests on his football team in a two year span. (more than the entire NFL btw). He was offended that anyone questioned him. Called it a witch hunt. 46 ARRESTS. His last comment in the interview said it all. Said Joepa, "you guys are digging awfully deep, and I DON'T LIKE IT"

    July 26, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
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