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. MrJay1

    That's an awful lot of writing when all that needs to be said is f, k pedo state.
    Fans and players crying over anything but the lost innocence of those victims should get into their cars and drive them into tree's very fast.

    July 23, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bman

      I'd like to like your comment MrJay. Why aren't there like buttons here..

      July 23, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JDinHouston

    Hubris is the legacy of Paterno and Penn State. Janitors looked the other way, junior staffers looked the other way, Paterno and the president of Penn State looked the other way. For freshman today at Penn State I can tell them with confidence this is a new beginning, and the academic value of a Penn State degree is not diminished. But to all who seem to think that somehow they were part of an honorable program, this is tough to absorb but the reality is every victory was at the expense of Penn State. Don't blame me, don't blame the NCAA, blame Paterno and the executive leadership that looked the other way thinking this would save football. It is their actions that have severely damaged Penn State football, not the NCAA..

    July 23, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ghilley

      Well stated. I totally agree

      July 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Papa Lazarou

    Congrats Coach Bowden ! Go Noles!

    July 23, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Bman

    The players were part of this. They allowed the pedophilia culture to grow, anyone of them could have stepped up and said, you know there's something strange about that coach and I don't like it. but they had their eyes on the million dollar signing bonuses. The fans were part of this. The family of Joe Paterno should be ashamed of themselves. Their statement today shows their total disconnect from reality. The administration of Penn State that can be proven to have helped in the coverup should be tried and jailed. The entire college athletics machine should just take a few years off, for reflection. And sports fans all around the world should take up personal excersize instead of watching other athletes on their televisions.

    July 23, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • RobertC

      The players all knew about it? Really? There was absolutely no evidence presented that any of the players knew.

      July 23, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      You sir are completely wrong. From your diatribe, you obviously know next to nothing about college sports and absolutely nothing about this Penn State fiasco!

      July 23, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tiger Paw Raw

      That's ludicrous to try to blame players. And I am as disgusted of Penn State and Joe Paterno as anyone.

      July 23, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Susan

    How pathetic that every meanspirited excuse for a human has decided to jump on the bandwagon of hatred and vitriol. Whatever happened to being able to defend oneself?! Defaming the character of a truly great man, when he can no longer defend himself – and not allowing anyone else to come to his defense is truly shameless and underhanded. I don't believe for one minute that Joe Paterno covered up the actions of Sandusky. Could he have possibly done more? Of course, he said that himself. Did he have any idea the extent of the perversion of Sandusky? I doubt it!

    July 23, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bman

      He died of shame for his actions. He was never truly great. There is no defamation. It's just a fake bubble that finally burst.

      Those in denial need to realize they might, just might, not be looking at the true legacy of this slimy man correctly.

      July 23, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • jason

      Susan,
      You are a fool if you believe this man knew nothing. This man is the king of PSU for decades. The president couldn't even fire im and you want to claim he didn't know anything. And you understand that this was a report from the FBI, not just some random guy, but the FBI. I'm sure they know a little more than you do. clearly.

      July 23, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      @Jason The FBI was not involved in this investigation. The Freeh report was generated by a former FBI head acting as a private citizen.

      July 23, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      He died of lung cancer.

      July 23, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      He put his legacy and football above the kids. He wanted to look perfect that's why he did not want Sandusky reported to police. Because it would make him look bad.

      July 23, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • 312

      ..- yeah, and keep telling yourself that the tooth fairy exist.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Riccardo

      As an educator, Paterno was required by law to report such abuses. Obviously, you do not have children. Can you imagine this happening to your son or daughter while adult professionals looked the other way. Paterno's "greatness" was completely superficial. It was about winning football games. The ACTUAL man was more concerned with fame and money. Enough so to allow the inocence of children to be taken by a sick member of his coaching staff.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. NorCalMojo

    His legacy is sealed. He'll be remembered for the wins by Penn State fans, and for covering up for a pedo by everyone else. Statues and sanctions won't change anyone's minds.

    July 23, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Ray

    They should take the statue out of storage and erect it in the nearest mental asylum with the statement "Joe-Jerk: the mentally challenged protector of child rapists"

    July 23, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. JDM

    Here's what no one is asking...if mighty Joe had never gotten involved over the years with player discipline and getting them off the hook when needed would he have won all those games. As a leader he skirted the rules and interfered with the academic system at PSU... getting players out of legal and academic trouble because they had to put football before anything. Apparently this included coaches raping boys. he was part of the problem there. No the almighty person everyone was brainwashed into deifying.

    July 23, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Douglas

      Not to defend the pedo crap, but Penn State Football had one of the highest graduation rates.

      July 23, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. onestarman

    I am NOT Really a Fan of Penn State or Even Football. I never heard of Joe Paterno before this. However, I find it disturbing that this old guy got THROWN UNDER THE BUS by the Same School Officials that he hold he had heard about but not witnessed behavior by one of his coaches that he thought they should look into. He relied upon them to make sure there was no problem so he assumed there was not. His 'Crime' was not reporting what he had heard about but had no evidence of to the Police. He thought that if there HAD been a problem his superiors at the school would report it. Was he Legally in the Wrong? Yes – but his superiors should be AT LEAST as Responsible.

    July 23, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • jason

      onestarman
      You should do some reading about Paterno. He wasn't just some coach. He ran that school. The president tried to fire him a while back and couldn't. THAT's how much power that man had. And his superiors are being held responsible. They are all fired. and possible charges could be brought up. But you have to understand that he was told about this in 98. He then continued to see Sandusky playing around with boys on campus. he came to work every day and not once did he ask the question: Should he really be allowed to come on campus with a bunch of little boys, in light of what I was told about him? He didn't care because it meant money, recruits, reputation and his precious most win award. Those were more important than ding the right thing.

      July 23, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joey

    I feel badly for all the victims involved in this scandal and hope they can move on with their lives.With that said Joe Paterno has been ripped apart for not being more involved by calling the cops and "letting it slide". I partially agree with that being that nobody has tried going after Mcqueary who actually SAW Sandusky and ONLY reported it to Joe Pa much later..it bothers me that the dead man who lived 95% right gets all the flak and Mcqueary gets off the hook..he was also a main reason Sandusky kept doing what he did.

    July 23, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • LaraRebooted

      Joey, actually a LOT of people have criticized McQueary for not doing enough. But the interesting thing about that is that Freeh's report indicates that there were actually several other people in the school who had witnessed similar events and were even more certain of what they saw, who did even less than McQueary tried to do... for fear of the professional reprisals they were sure would be leveled against them. And they were probably right about that threat because we've also seen what happened to the Student Affairs director who tried to take Paterno on; her career was destroyed and only recovered when the scandal broke and people finally realized what "JoePa's" word was actually worth. McQueary took a huge risk speaking out at all, and did follow up later on to check and see if things had been acted upon. He was told that it had been handled. Given both his probable trust in Paterno at the time, and what would probably have happened to him if he'd questioned or defied his boss, and the fact that he probably didn't want to believe that he'd seen what he saw, blaming him for not doing more is pretty senseless. There's plenty of blame to go around, but he WAS one of the few people who actually spoke up at all - and he only knew about the one incident he witnessed, not the larger pattern that it fit into. I'm sure he wishes he'd done a lot more, but his testimony was key in breaking down the cover-up so I really don't see the point in vilifying him or anyone else who had little/no power against Paterno and his cronies.

      July 23, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Leonardo

    Good riddence.Too rich college letting pedos roam around.They seserve everything thats happening to them.

    July 23, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Getreal

    People are outraged that their hero’s name has been tarnished. The sad thing is that they show no anger that he turned a blind eye. If he had no idea of what was going on then he was guilty of stupidity. If he tuned a blind eye then he was guilty of a crime. People need to decide if they would rather call him be a criminal or an idiot or both. The other big problem is that people called him a hero. Solders, police officers, fire fighter, nurses, doctors, and teachers are all heroes. People are so bent out of shape that a football coach is no longer the apple of everyones and that a sports team is SOL. It is great to see everyone has their priorities in the right place.

    July 23, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. symone says

    paterno's family clearly dismisses the damages done by the coverup. it is incredible to me that they can take this stance, knowing that covering up something heinous is *almost* as bad as doing it yourself. wait: it's worse, because it allowed more victims to be abused.

    paterno family, wake up. your patriarch was a bad man who cared more for football wins than he cared for the young men out making those wins..

    also @onestarman, not worthy. he was driving the bus. it is simply not enough to report something horrible and then if nobody does anything about it, breathe a sigh of relief and move on. had paterno turned in sandusky, paterno would still be a hero and his statue would still be there, maybe bigger

    paterno family, there is no one to blame but paterno's complicit complacency. for shame. i am a small bit sorry that you are shamed too, until i realize that you are not shamed at all and in fact, still full of hubris and false pride.

    for shame

    July 23, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Russ

    You can't unring a bell, cancel yesterday, change history, or say that those games were not played and Penn State did not win. I'm not a graduate of Penn State, or a fan of their football team, but it seems wrong to punish both the fans and players who played, watched, and cheered their team on to victory. This was a failure of some core individuals, not the student body or the football team. Their victories should stand, but the the games that Paterno coached and won should only be eliminated from his record.

    July 23, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Michael S.

    Vacating the games punishes the people who were not involved and really makes all of the statistics fake. The new 'winningest' coach knows that he isn't really the winningest, which lessens the honor anyway. He only gets the honor because of an incident that didn't have anything directly to do with winning or losing the games played. What a farce.

    July 23, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris e

      If the NCAA vacating games doesn't change history, as you said, then Bobby Bowden was the winningest coach before and after this ruling, not Paterno.

      July 23, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • IMO

      Totally agree. Lots of animosity directed at Joe but very little at the current Governor Corbett who took a pass years ago when given the chance as atty general along with many others. It's clearly unforgiveable what went on, but having known the man, he was not as full of himself as those who never met him would have you believe. He was no saint for sure, but where is the outrage for the administration, law enforcement, parents, and others who were in the know and did nothing? It's like a car wreck-all the professed outrage by some will subside until the next thing comes along. In the meantime, what will YOU have done to improve the lives of the abused? The faked moral indignation of many is ironic as most have little any genuine interest in the victims. Most of what the trollers on here are voicing is nothing more than idiotic hate directed at someone to feel better about their crummy life. They'd no more donate time, money or support than they would get involved if it was going on right in front of them. It's easy to say what one would do when not having ever been faced with actually getting involved. Probably no better in most cases than those they stand in judgment of. The sins of the father are always paid by the son- that's the irony of those left standing. The true culprits will weasel out. Curious Freeh gives a pass to law enforcement and the lawyers who knew the truth.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
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