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. Peter

    Paterno was Sandusky's superior. He know all about his behavior and DID NOTHING. NOTHING. N-O-T-H-I-N-G.

    I am so sick and tired of these bird-brained football freaks who seem to be more riled up over having the games expunged from the record than what happened to the kids.

    The old guy in the "Paterno" t-shirt in the CNN video who brought a life sized cardboard cutout of Paterno to the spot where the statue used to be as "a tribute" to "a great man" needs psychiatric attention.

    What the hell is the matter with these people?

    July 23, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • nottolate

      @Peter,

      "Paterno was Sandusky's superior. He know all about his behavior and DID NOTHING."

      Wrong! Sandusky no longer even worked Paterno at the time of these events. Add to that the police knew what this guy was doing way back 1993 and failed to arrest him. If the police didn't/couldn't arrest the guy. just what do you expect from JoePa?

      July 23, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      nottolate wrote: "Wrong! Sandusky no longer even worked Paterno at the time of these events. Add to that the police knew what this guy was doing way back 1993 and failed to arrest him. If the police didn't/couldn't arrest the guy. just what do you expect from JoePa?"

      An important Penn State insider like "JoePa" could have done a lot, pal. But he didn't. He knew of Sandusky's behavior.
      And he had a lot of power within Penn State. But he didn't use it, did he?

      July 23, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gumby

      Hear hear. Well said.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • frank

      If the district attorney of centre county chose to do nothing and also child welfare what in the h&ll you want joe paterno to do.answer me that with a sound mind.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • nottolate

      @Peter,

      "And he had a lot of power within Penn State. But he didn't use it, did he?"

      Your response doesn't answer my questions do it? If the cops couldn't nab this guy in 1993 knowing full well what was going on then what do you expect for JoePa to just go and shoot him? Add to that he didn't even work for JoePa and hadn't worked for him in years.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. Russ

    George Washington had a subordinate, Baron Von Steuben, who whipped the troops into shape at Valley Forge and made them into a real army. However the Baron is said to have "liked boys". While he was working for Washington though, nobody did anything about it, and Washington went on to victory. Well, does the fact that the Baron continued on his nasty ways mean Washington's record should be wiped clean and the country should ask Great Britain to take us back?

    July 23, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • k

      Did Washington know about any of von Steuben's "activities" and then ignore them? No. There is no historical evidence suggesting that Washington knew anything about these alleged "preferences". Moreover, had he known, Washington would have the man shot. He was a man of honor, in contrast to Paterno, who was clearly more interested in Penn State and his reputation (i.e., stroking his ego). Washington, and men of his era, were interested in doing the right thing.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • tonyl9973

      comparing apples to oranges aint gonna help.

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

      Dude...really?

      July 23, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ghilley

      That was like 3 centuries ago...much different moral and ethical climate

      July 24, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. nottolate

    "Do sanctions alter history books on Penn State and Paterno's legacy?"

    Altered in the minds of the censorious to sate there bloodlust perhaps, but not at all to them who judge righteous judgement.

    July 23, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. ann

    Joe Paterno was an enabler..football and his program meantmore than innocent children. This is deserved..and to the Paterno family get our of denial. I compare this to the Catholic church and those pediifiles and an enablers.

    July 23, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Jimbostud

    Face it,...the old man was from a time when you kept your dirt under your own rug. He simply coached at least 10-15 years beyond when he should have been replaced.

    July 23, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jimbostud

    Oh,...and Mcquery should be castrated!

    July 23, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Feet Ball

    I dont have an answer.
    I do have a question.

    Should the NFL vacate The New Orleans Saints
    Super Bowl win because of the Bounty scandal ?

    July 23, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike

      Bad comparison- NFL players know what they're getting into- you think Dick Butkus wasn't trying to kill QBs in the 60's. Those boys going into Sandusky's basement didn't know what they were getting into, although apparently Paterno, Spanier, etc. did. That's why they're wrong here- inaction when this could have been stopped years ago!

      July 23, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meredith

      Yes, especially because the players WERE complicit in this...

      July 23, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Michelle

    No matter what sanctions are dolled out to PSU it won't take away the pain inflicted on those innocent children. Football is a GAME. Yes it brings in millions, but that is NOTHING in comparison to destroying a child's life. I couldn't care less about Joe Paterno's winning record. I do care about the fact that he stood by and not just allowed this horror to take place but covered it up so that his precious football team would not be affected. The players have their memories, their rings and their education. What memories do thos innocent children have? They're most likely still living in the nightmare of those memories.

    July 23, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Let Joe Paterno rest in peace

    The sanctions went too far in taking away all wins from 1998 to 2011. The sanctions serve no purpose other than to punish former players and to try to make believe that Joe Pa isn't college football's winningest coach. I feel sorry for Joe Pa's family, this has to be heart wrenching for them first to lose a beloved family member's to cancer and then to have his legacy smeared and tarnished. People want to ignore the fact that Jerry Sandusky is actually the pedophile not Joe Paterno.

    July 23, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. TRUTH_ROCKS

    The guy who brought Paterno's cutout in CNN video needs to imagine his own grandchildren go through what the other victims went through to understand how Paterno could have shown integrity and real guts, but decided not to. I really wish Paterno was alive to see this. Coward!

    July 23, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. CTC

    Did Joe SEE Sandusky commit the acts he was convicted of? No he didn't. I am not a PSU fan nor follow the football program at all, but to take something away from the players and the program that had nothing to do with abuse seems stupid. It proves nothing and does nothing for those kids. Fine the heck out of PSU, do something that might help the kids and other kids.

    July 23, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • TRUTH_ROCKS

      @CTC Paterno did not 'SEE' (as you put it) Sandusky abuse any child with his own eyes, but he was aware of the FACT that Sandusky was abusing kids, and he actively colluded with the administration to 'deal with the matter humanely' or 'treat Sandusky humanely.' Now, what part of it do you not get? Tell you what, god forbid, but if you have children or grandchildren and they go through what Sandusky's victims went through, may be you'll begin to understand.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Just a thought

    athough the actions done were atrocious, Jo Paternos job was to coach foot-ball, not to be a cop

    July 23, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Players didn't deserve this!

    I commend the former football players for speaking out! The players DONT deserve this. This is their time to shine! GO PENN STATE! I hope they show their pride on the field when they play this fall!

    July 23, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Mike

    Why should Paterno's legacy be tarnished? Because he allowed his Penn State football power intoxication to cloud his judgement, and it ultimately contributed to the ruining of many lives. Why didn't he personally contact the state police like any right minded individual would do in a situation like this? Are you going to tell me that the state police are going to ignore a JoePa phone call? People will say that Paterno positively affected lives throughout his career, but I would argue that those lives were positively affected by the tremendous talent and drive of the young men that played for him- not because of anything specific that Paterno did. In the end, he was a coward, not a leader and his silence cost the innocence of many children. Put yourself in Paterno's shoes people- what would you have done????

    July 23, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Larry

    Just in case anyone's forgotten one significant fact, there's a missing district attorney who reportedly was investigating Sandusky. Ray Gricar disappeared without a trace. His abandoned car was later found and his computer-minus its hard drive, was found in a Pennsylvania river months later. Perhaps it was feared he'd bring down Paterno and the multi-million dollar money machine that was Penn State football. Can anyone say FOUL PLAY?

    July 23, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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