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. Sweiman

    They took the easy way out by hurting and punishing past and future players at PSU.....take the board's retirement money away from all of them ...if this scandal didn't make them do something about it.....perhaps their pockets would. Don't take everything out on the people who weren't even involved...the players and students...

    July 24, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  2. katie

    uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh NO! Sanctions are not altering the legacy. Serving up children on a platter to a serial child predator is what has permanently altered anyone's legacy. For the zillionth time, this is not about football, Penn State, or Joe Paterno. It is ONLY about God knows how many children who were victimized by Jerry Sandusky AND everyone who had any knowledge of the allegations going back decades! ALL of you egotistical cowards victimized those kids!

    July 24, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  3. Dave

    I'm so glad the NCAA finally decided to show some balls and send a message. Joe Paterno was not a great football coach who made a foolish mistake; he was a negligent, enabling fool who happened to win a lot at football. Stripping away the wins is the right thing to do. Boisterous Penn state fans and former players will continue to say that a "win is a win", for a few years. But soon enough that'll fade, as they get tired of qualifying their accomplishments in light of the scandal. Eventually, Joe Paterno's name will fade into the mixture of utter obscurity and infamy that he richly deserved for all those years he turned a blind eye.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • frespech

      This coming from a guy whos greatest physical accomplishment was learning to tie his shoes.Way to go Dave.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Shawnee

    For all the alumni of Penn State, the player who "almost Died there", the fans, the students, I truly sympathize... But rather than complaining of the NCAA sanctions, blame the ones who earned those sanctions! Sandusky, Paterno, Curley, Spanier! They are the ones who spat on ever single player by tarnishing the school. Not the NCAA.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jerry

    What they should do is TAKE AWAY ALL THE MONEY THAT WILL BE PASSED FROM JOE PATERNO TO HIS CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN. Then you watch the family disappear from ever making a comment again. When they realize they now have to exist in this world on their own and earn their own money... They will back off their comments quickly. Joe Pa's family would probably not give up a dime of their inheritence to support what happened to these children.... If this was suggested... Watch them disappear from public statements

    July 24, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  6. BrigitC

    When is the NCAA going to take some responsibility for this disaster? Scapegoating Paterno is too easy. College football players and coaches are treated like gods and have all kinds of money and perks thrown at them, often at the taxpayers' expense and the expense of other college programs. Yes, crimes were committed and people need to go to jail (including Sandusky's wife). But Paterno is dead and can't defend himself, so he's an easy mark for the NCAA.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  7. EJ

    I have no association with Penn State but Penn State football is not just about Joe Paterno or Jerry Sandusky. What about all the football players who were so proud of their accomplishments under Paterno? Taking away the statue and punishing the Penn State's entire program is unfair to the students. Sandusky is in jail for life and Paterno is deceased, but the morale of the students and alumni is being seriously hurt and they are being made victims as well. Innocent victims.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  8. Sally

    let me first just say that I do believe that Sandusky is guilty of all (and possibly more) of the crimes he is accused of and i believe that he should be punished to the furthest extent of the law.

    that being said. looking at the situation objectively, Sandusky is still planning to appeal his case. so if by some far off chance (a casey anthony chance) he wins his appeal and is found not guilty, do the sanctions against Penn State get lifted?

    July 24, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      The NCAA's decision is not dependent on the findings of a criminal court. They made their own conclusions about what happened based on their internal investigation, and acted accordingly.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • JustSayin

      No. The sanctions are a direct result of an independent investigation into the knowledge of the abuse. Whether he somehow gets off or not is irrelevant. They have proven that not only did it happen, but that the leaders of PSU knew about it and did what they could to keep it under wraps to protect the football program.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ProperVillain

    "Sanctions erasing Penn State legacy?"
    Oh, boo hoo! Paterno and his band of miscreets managed to erase the innocence of a bunch of childhoods. Seriously, this headline is what is wrong with this country. Everyone is worried about the "legacy" left by a football program that will be forgotten within the greater scope of history. More importantly, again, America is putting a pointless game ahead of the lives of people. Way to go 'Merica!

    July 24, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  10. nbgb

    These people have some strange psychological disorder. I am very good with math in fact I studied at Penn State, engineering. These games in fact did exist and the won/loss record is valid. They should not be authorities for anything associated with education but should attend as students and learn some math.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Al

      Obviously the English courses never took...

      July 24, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Chris

    The irony is that for years the PSU program was one of the most honorably run college football programs in the country. The penalties go to far in punishing people who had absolutely nothing to do with the crime. The only really honorable and useful part of the penalties is the fine. At least that will go to help prevent this type of abuse. The rest of penalties only go to satisfy the blood lust of the public and as a pathetic attempt to improve the image of a useless and corrupt NCAA.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  12. N

    My problem will all of this is simply this not ALL the facts have yet come to light. There are going to be more investigations, civil suits ... etc. So why jump the gun and impose all these sanctions right away & it seems like everyone is blaming Joe Pa for the actions of everyone. Why well he is gone and cannot defend himself. Now I am not defending him but is it truly fair what about Spanner? You don't see his name anywhere. What about the people who seen things first hand and did nothing. To say you would be fired and fearful of that is an excuse. Any lawyer would jump at that case. Lets face it Joe Pa is an easy target for everyone to cast all the blame on because he isn't here. Yes what happend was terrible, yes Joe should've done more, but why punish those who had nothing to do with any of this and put their bodies on the line playing football.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Say What?

      what are you,stupid? Theres enough facts to do what they did. You dont need a court to tell you, when its on record....good grief, wake the heck up

      July 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bernard

    Gotta love Adam Talifero using the h-cap card - priceless

    July 24, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • emmertdusky

      You could too Mr. 2 cents

      July 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Kraut

    Great coach, not so great human being seduced by great power. Can we separate the two?

    July 24, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  15. mikes

    " 'won more games than any college coach in history. That’s a fact,' Forbes writer Mike Ozanian"

    No, that's not a fact. The games were played under NCAA rules. The NCAA, according to those rules, has vacated what were previously considered wins, and they are no more.

    July 24, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41