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.

[tweet https://twitter.com/Tali43/status/227433115050717184%5D

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.

[tweet https://twitter.com/dmoye6/status/227410096861372416%5D

Former Penn State player A. Q. Shipley tweeted a picture of rings he won at Penn State.

[tweet https://twitter.com/aqshipley/status/227414666773667841%5D

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.

[tweet https://twitter.com/Dev_Still71/status/227463677278838784%5D

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. NCAA hurt all the remaining innocents

    Joe is the winningest coach in NCAA history – that does not change.

    Joe helped shape the lives of many good student athletes – that does ot change.

    Joe is dead – he can no longer defend his actions or his inactions – anyone still seekig to throw dirt on his legacy would be better served throwing dirt on his grave, and then moving on to do s ome good.

    One aspect of this hat puzzles me is that years ago when the first ever incident surfaced, Joe reported it - the state police and DA were notified and called in - and the DA decided not to press charges - the DA then disappeared forever along with his hard drive. Shortly thereafter Paterno let Sanduskey go and Sanduskey never got another job in college football - that part of the story should be explored –and many many other NCAA colleges and athletic directors must know something -

    July 24, 2012 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  2. Gwats

    If you are cleaning house, you move every piece of furniture and clean under it and behind it. Otherwise , you doing it halfway. No halfway measures here, you either like it or you don't

    July 24, 2012 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  3. larry

    Let us wait till all the facts are in, trials conducted etc, before we worry what the history books say about Joe Paterno.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  4. Rob

    What legacy? In my mind he does not have one.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Bryant

      well, as a protector of pedophiles, that it his legacy. Cry all you want about him being a great coach(it's just fvking football you cretins) this move aligns his legacy with what he truly accomplished. Anyone who protects such a sicko can never be great.

      July 24, 2012 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
    • David Friedman

      His legacy is contributing to child molestation.....

      July 24, 2012 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
  5. Gwats

    Vacating those wins seemed to sting the Paterno family pretty hard.....

    July 24, 2012 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Hp

      i for one am disgusted the family is so concerned about having a few wins scratched off their dead fathers record. Pathetic greedy sick fvks. I wish their children were r@p3d and no one said anything, just for some gd perspective

      July 24, 2012 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      I am more concerned at this idea about rewriting history that we don't approve of – it is simply dangerous in any precedent

      Who cares about the Paterno family, yes they are prominent in that town and community, but with the patriarch gone, they have no influence beyond the community. His son will never be a top flight head coach anywhere else and good luck achieving elected office, the family will simply fade away over time.

      July 24, 2012 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  6. Barney

    The NCAA felt left out because they have no power. The way you punish Penn State without punishing the people and kids that had nothing to do with the acts of a sick man is to hit them punitively. The $60M was a great start because it goes to an important cause. Instead of keeping them from bowl games, vacating wins (big deal, there will always be a record of how many games they won), and taking away scholarships, the NCAA should simply not allow the football program to grow in any way shape or form. Lower the fine to $40M, but make it payable at the end of every year for the next 4 years. Those who made the infractions are not in the picture anymore. Punishing the program without punishing the kids is a tough one, but taking away any profit related to the football program without punishing those that aren't responsible is a good idea.

    July 24, 2012 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
  7. La Dude

    I thought Eddie Robinson was now the winningnest coach???

    July 24, 2012 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Gator

      Not in D1 (FBS). Regardless of what happened Paterno still won the most on the field and Bowden will be recognized only in the NCAA record book. Bad person but it does not change the facts nor should it penalize the kids who played the game.

      July 24, 2012 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Denial

      I agree. Those kids should not be punished at all. They should not have to watch people defend the most powerful man at penn state, who did nothing to prevent them from being r a p e d, go untouched after his death. What else can be taken from this dead man? Oh boo-hoo, he got fired? His 'legacy' is appropriately horse manure, and his 'wins' which he placed upon a pedastool as of greater importance than the lives of REAL children(the football players you speak were all actually adults).

      I suppose you also defend the likes of barry bonds, lance Armstrong, and the certain catholic priests. Hey, facts are facts, right?

      July 24, 2012 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
  8. Rev.SoulGlo

    shoulda vacated the wins while he was still alive.

    July 24, 2012 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  9. Michael

    I guess I'm a little confused as to why they would vacate previous wins.....Penn State completely deserves the fines, and no bowl games for 4 years sounds reasonable to me, but erasing history is just ridiculous....

    Does this mean that Penn State's records during those years will now be 0-11 or 0-12? Wouldn't there be an asterisk next to those "losses"? What about the teams they beat? Can they now change their record books ro reflect a win and improve their records? I'm sorry, but rewriting history after the fact is just dumb....what's happened has happened, and that includes everything to everyone....can I rewrite the books to show I hit the $640 million lottery by myself? I'm sure I could, but that doesn't put the money in my bank.....it's a meaningless act....

    July 24, 2012 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Wasntmee

      None of the teams who lost will alter their records. The NCAA record will be the only reflection. No team, coach or fan wants to win like that. The NCAA has vacated 12 wins from Bowden that he thinks is unfair and would have been #1. It's one of the penalties at risk when playing in the NCAA.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  10. MSL58

    Has Penn State considered that instead of concentrating in the fields of football and sodomizing young boys, they might just possibly, maybe consider concentrating on ACADEMICS?

    They shouldn't shut down Penn State Football. They should shut down Penn State.

    July 24, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Art

      MSL58, keeping busy re-posting the same comment on all the PS threads?

      July 24, 2012 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
    • emmertdusky

      Perhaps you should be evaluating the graduation rates and degree difficulty at all colleges and universities.

      July 24, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
  11. Joe public1

    Retroactive punishment creates too many innocent victims. The players and staff who put their time , blood, sweat, and tears into those wins are being unjustly punished by these retroactive penalties! Proper punitive action can only be forward facing! Revision of the history books doesn't change change history. It's just pulling the wool over ones eyes!

    July 24, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  12. Big Dan Knows

    Eddie Robinson is now the Div I record holder for the most wins. Grambling State University.

    July 24, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  13. Zeal

    At the end "JOE PA" was only a football coach and nothing more.
    He was not a HERO because HEROES are suppose protect people who cannot protect themselves.
    He was not a LEADER because LEADERS are suppose to lead by example and do the right thing regardless how difficult they are.
    He was not a LEGEND because LEGENDS are not suppose to worry about their legacy but do right deeds.

    July 24, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  14. Seth

    I'm pretty sure Joe Pa is in Heaven looking down and getting a good laugh from some of these posts! He may have made a few mistakes in life but the number of good things he did and the hundreds of people he helped well out numbers the negative! 🙂

    July 24, 2012 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Shawnee

      LOL Do you think Jo Pa is in heavan watching as they tore his statue down? I sure hope so! What a great legacy for his grand kids. HA HA HA HA

      July 24, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  15. Ed

    Nick Sabnin at Alabama gets $6 miilion a year after 5 years; Joe Paterno got $550,000 after 65 years. Nick Sabin has a statue outside Alabama's stadium; Bear Bryant doesn't. See a problem here. The NCAA needs to look into the money. Per the NCAA, Auburn has a basketball graduation rate of 27%; Penn State's is 85% but Penn State put sports ahead of academics. The NCAA is pretending to be so concerned about kids but the facts don't lie, they're more interested in protecting themselves and the money. They slapped Penn State to avoid a bigger investigation into their corruppt policies.

    July 24, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
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