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. alan

    So the sanctions hurt. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that was the idea. As for Paterno, he's fast becoming Saint Joe. They're making a martyr out of him.

    July 24, 2012 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
    • jenny

      don;t you mean satan?

      July 24, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  2. TiredODaCrap

    There is a disservice done by vacating wins and moving him down the list is the awareness of the situation.

    Barry Bonds at the "top" of the home run records ensures that no one will forget the steroid era or how Mr. Bonds got to his spot on that last. However, true baseball fans know the deal and many still consider Aaron the true HR King. That said, any time HR records are mentioned – with Bonds' name – we are reminded of steroids and the hazzards of them.

    With Jo Pa pushed down the list to 7th, 8th, or wherever, why would his name ever come up again? He's not going to have any new wins. However, we lose his name being there and the reminder of this tragedy, as well as hazzards of college athletic coaches, directors, etc, wieldling too much power. As much as I can understand the desire to punish this man for his lack of action, I think leaving him at the top would have kept this cause (protecting young children) at the top of the record books with him.

    Now, much like what Penn State did for all those years, the NCAA has done nothing more than continue to hide what really took place.

    July 24, 2012 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  3. TiredODaCrap

    Positions like this one are the reasons for this entire situation. Jo Pa was a man, not a god. It was however HIS football team – so 2nd hand, heresay, etc, it doesn't matter. If Jo Pa ran the show, it was up to Jo Pa to handle this. He admitted BEFORE he died that he was told about this. There is no way to take the responsibility away from him – dead or not.

    July 24, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  4. charles

    I think alot of you are thinking of the school like a person It is not. A school is the sum total of the students each year. Why do we punish them?? None did anything wrong NONE. Why do present and future students have to pay the fine.
    Because the guilty don't pay a dime. Most the present football players will not pay a price they can leave and play with another team. And whyn shouldn't they they did nothing wrong.

    July 24, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  5. Amy

    They vacate the wins because if the coaches and leadership had taken action at that time, those games might not have been won. The scandal would have come up immediately and the football program would have taken a small hit (not the grandiose avalanche they are seeing now). You choose your team over the greater good, you will suffer in the long run.

    July 24, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
    • DarqueSide

      Perhaps if they (PSU) had acted swiftly in 1998, it may have enhanced their program by being viewed as strongly ethical and demonstrating courage and leadership. But they didn't... so take your medicine boys!

      July 24, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • SuperDave

      I don't agree. Actually, if Paterno had the guts to do the right thing he would have become a mythical God like creature instead of the obvious leader of a cult that I see still believes in him. But no matter, this had nothing to do with any gain that affected football games. Taking away wins from players is wrong, punishing the team in any way is wrong. Its the individuals in power that need punishment. Take the wins record from Paterno, but never say PSU did not win those games.

      July 24, 2012 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
    • ncanadanow

      You hit the nail right on the head. Penn State athletic department started digging its own grave when they placed football over human well fare; the grave got deeper when university authorities agreed (or more likely bowed under JP's considerable clout at the time) to keep silent. Penn State is in the place it is due completely to their own actions; they finally got caught and they are being forced to pay. Considering the price the victims paid, Penn State got off easy.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
  6. TommyGp

    "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."

    Bull crap. His actions defamed his legacy, and he was definitely no real educator. Educators recognize and abide by their moral obligation to protect the children. He did nothing, which if anything at all proves him a coward and a thief. Not a thief in the conventional sense, but a thief of PSU's fans' admiration and respect.

    July 24, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
    • d

      Remember, Paterno is only guilty of "inaction" that caused harm, not an "action" causing harm. The supreme court ruled in the 70's you can not be held liable for inaction resulting in harm, only action resulting in harm. I can't remember the case name but it involves the DHR for not acting when someone reported to them multiple times a father was beating his child. The child eventually died from the beatings. SCOTUS absolved DHR from any liability because of their inaction.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  7. Brian P

    "I almost died playing for PSU".


    The values of people in that town and school are totally screwed up. This is a school that has a football team, not a football team that just happens to be a school. Would you pledge your life for your employer like McDonald's? What about your elementary school? All these people seem to live for football, and Paterno is their god. I can see why the administration didn't want to give that up seeing it got them $60M/yr from those who would pay any price to be close or part of this football team. It's like they are all part of some brain washed cult or Stepford fans.

    July 24, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • dirtyh

      i love mickey deez. i will die for them. yes sir billy bob boy.

      July 24, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
    • mdpt

      Brian – Adam Taliaferro did almost die on the football field. He broke his neck during a game, and is now paralyzed. Please check your facts before you start to criticize someone else too much.

      July 24, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
    • mslisac363

      I blame the parents too.. 1st not talking with their boys and to allow a man to take them off with him... We as a parent have to teach our children about these issues and great concerns about who your child spends time with. A man always buying gifts my be a good sign...

      July 24, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • AJ

      Adam Taliafero DID almost die for PSU football. He was seriously injured in a game, and over several years, had to learn to rewalk, and overcome his paralyzation.

      Know what you're talking about before you chime in.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • jess

      Actually, he DID almost die playing there. He was tackled and paralyzed. He was within inches of losing his life.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  8. Logic

    He hung around 14 years too long just to get the record. He should have retired gracefully in 1997 and his legacy would have remained intact. Instead he believed in his own superiority and guess what? It bit him in the backside for all eternity.

    July 24, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  9. Todd

    This is ridiculous. He was a football coach. Just a football coach. In the scheme of things and importance of things in life, he means nothing. A football coach should never have been revered in such a manner the first place. People face life and death issues. There are true heroes that die for others. Come on people... A football coach? Dumb.

    July 24, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
  10. John

    When you put someone on a high pedestal and say that he or she is special and holy, that person sometimes starts to believe it. Then they start to feel as if rules and regulations do not apply to them the same way they apply to those other people. That's when the problems start to happen.

    July 24, 2012 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
    • NCAA hurt all the remaining innocents

      Thanks Father John are yo uholding confessions now?

      July 24, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  11. jenny

    nasty PS freaks, stay in that town and never leave, everyone would feel safer without a town of enablers on the loose

    July 24, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
    • NCAA hurt all the remaining innocents

      A tad far reaching and overbearing don't you think Jenny. Those players had no knowledge about this they are innocent - don't paint so briad a brush stroke – it makes you look foolish and a pious fraud

      stick to the facts....

      The $60 million fine is ok as it serves some good -punishing the players, the fans, the local businesses – that goes too far –way too far -and serves no useful purpose ...

      One person that folks should be talking about is McCleary the former QB who discovered the kid in the shower - He was supposed to be a leader –he was a big man – towering over Sanduskey - but he was a coward that night –Had he gone in and laid out Sanduskey on the shower floor and called the state cops right away, this all stops in 1998 and none of this happens -Mcleary fumbles the ball big time and made a stupid play

      July 24, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  12. hingedlwnb

    JoePa's new legacy:

    No one is completely worthless. You can always serve as a bad example.

    July 24, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
    • NCAA hurt all the remaining innocents

      or a self righteous boor making stupid comment like yours

      July 24, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  13. Tortimeese

    Paterno's legacy has been tainted permanently. In no book, can an author write about Paterno's legacy in college football without mentioning his defensive line and coach–Sandusky.

    July 24, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  14. eroteme

    Paterno's legacy? He may be remembered as one who successfully hid his true character until Sandusky's conduct became public knowledge. He might be admired as one who successfully fooled the nation into believing he was the greatest of the great, even to the extent of raising the Paterno statue as a sign of his 'earned' respect.

    July 24, 2012 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
  15. ShaNequa

    I think it is ridiculous and outrageous what the NCAA has done to Joe Paterno, his family and his football team. How do u make this man and his team pay for the actions of another man? Paterno only did what he was told to do. Now the administration of Penn State should be the ones who have to pay and held responsible for doing nothing! My heart goes out to the Paterno family and the Penn State football team. I honestly think the Paterno family should have the library, the dorms, and the football stadium torn down since it was Joe who paid for them to be built. Or give the family back the money he spent.

    July 24, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
    • mslisac363

      I just care about the college kids... Take away what they earned is truly wrong.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • EKIA

      Paterno knew that Sandusky was molesting kids. It doesn't matter what someone else told him to do. Nazis told their soldiers to kill jews. Slaveholders told their hired white workers to keep the slaves in line by whipping. Does that excuse their actions, just "because they were told to do it"? I bet if it were your kid that was molested, you wouldn't think the NCAA was being ridiculous.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Nycz

      The real world. You should join us here.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
    • lone

      " Paterno only did what he was told to do".. are you seriously defending him. So according to your logic none of the Nazis are to be blamed since they did all the stuff because Hitler told them to do so.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
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