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. Robert

    Old Penn State Cheer: "We Are... Penn State!"

    New Student's Cheer: "We Are... Up the Creek!"

    New Player's Cheer: "We Are... Outta Here!"

    July 24, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Robert

    Old Penn State Cheer: "We Are... Penn State!"

    New Student's Cheer: "We Are... Up the Creek!"

    New Player's Cheer: "We Are... Outta Here!"

    New Trustee's Cheer: "We Are... So Screwed!"

    July 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JeramieH

    If there's only ONE thing that catches the attention of sports people, it's changing their win record. I thought it was a brilliant move.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Yep

    I still can't believe that people are still defending Paterno. Really? He put the football program before protecting innocent children and yet people still say what a good man he was and how great he was for Penn State. I disagree completely. His actions show that he lacked morals and good judgement. All those people that are defending him just think if it was your child or brother who had been molested because this man who had the power to stop it chose not to all in the name of football. Disgraceful. Unfortunately he died before seeing the program go down in flames as well as his legacy. He got off easy!

    July 24, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • RealityCheck

      What many of you fail to realize is that the police were called twice to investigate this. After an investigation by Detective Ronald Shreffler, Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar chose not to prosecute. WHO is really to blame now. Incidents were reported to police and the prosecutor CHOSE not to prosecute.

      The real bad guys...are the supposed good guys. Before you go bashing people with no facts what so ever, I suggest shutting your unfactual opinions and learn to listen for once instead of giving two bit conclusions to your opinion.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gloria

      RealityCheck: The decision not to prosecute one incident does not absolve their responsibility to report future crimes.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mary

    Altho no action can really give those kids their lives back ,
    This heavy punitive action will hopefully be a wake-up call to any other sickos still using the system to prey on kids .

    Hopefully the days of using kids as slaves are coming to and end by putting a metaphorical 2 X 4 upside the head of all pedos and pervs .

    July 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Just glad to see that what the players accomplished doesnt matter. get abused and your victory doesnt count.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nat Q

      @Steve: Half those players wouldn't even have been at Penn State if they'd done what they were supposed to and reported this in '98 and taken sanctions then. If they didn't have 10 or 15 or 20 scholarships a year then, if they took 2 or 3 or 4 years of bowl ineligibility then, they never would have had those wins. This isn't about "what the players did." It is about essentially cheating in order to get the players to do it. If a team paid recruits to come play, no one would debate taking away the wins. But if the team hides and infraction in order to keep recruiting players, suddenly it isn't fair to punish them by vacating the wins? Cheating is cheating is cheating.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Nik

    Ok, this entire Paterno family feeling that JoePa doesn't have a chance to defend himself needs to stop.

    He had 13 years to defend himself, but chose to cover up for a child rapist instead. From the moment this came out, he should have made a statement instead of hiding in his house. Especially after learning he had cancer, he should have come forward with what he knew and when. Unless of course he was rightfully ashamed of his complete and utter inaction.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. benji

    I don't care about their football program. College is for education anyway. What I find funny is the NCAA took a page from the Soviet play book on wiping stuff and people that existed from the pages of histroy, even thouhg they really existed.HAHAHA

    July 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nat Q

      Not quite. They aren't saying the games never happened, merely that the wins do not officially count. The reasons are varied, but essentially the reasoning is that this issue should have been reported immediately. Had it, they would have been fined and restricted for violating the ethics clauses then. The result? They would have been restricted from bowls then and lost scholarships. Essentially, played in games they should not have been in on, recruited players they should not have been able to recruit, etc. And then, not only did they hide it initially, they hid it for years, all during which they would have faced penalties if it had come out. In other words, at least partially, they hid it TO AVOID NCAA restrictions. They were cheating each year and it tainted each year. It's no different than paying players to win recruits. Those games would all be forfeit. The only difference is that instead of paying players, they avoided punishment to keep scholarships and bowl eligibility to attract recruits.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jeff


    July 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Oski

    One of the many reason that Paterno covered up for Sandusky's behavior was to protect his "legacy"...vacating his win total s and knocking him off as the winningest coach does that...Sorry JoePa, you are just as guilty as Sandusky...Sandusky scored but you got the assist.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. leave it alone

    yes remove his record take his legecy if it eases your mind, but guess what they are still wins and he kicked everyone arsch. No one can take the memories, it might not show it on paper now but he is still king of college coaches. I like how they take away the wins after sandusky retired but not the ones while his was coaching. funny sh it there

    July 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. geowrian

    I sort of agree, but the issue is a lot of the coverup was done by members of the board of trustees. Therefore, it's an action (or inaction) of the entire university, not just the football program or the people involved. I know a university isn't the same as a business, but bare with me for a moment – if it were a business, would you punish only those involved if the CEO, CFO, etc. aided and covered it up? The punishment goes towards the entire business since it really is the action of the entire business when an officer is involved. That's why you need to be 100% certain in your officers.

    While taking away wins doesn't really make too much sense to me, I do fully support punitive damages against the university. I realize that people not involved with the scandal with be harmed, but that's not the issue of the NCAA, Big Ten, etc. The officers who participated in the scandal are solely to blame for the students that are now at a loss. They were supposed to represent those students' interests, and they decided to ignore that responsibility and risk the fallout of getting caught.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ro

    Comparing Paterno to Bonds is ridiculous. Covering up child abuse does not compare to Bond's bad behavior.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • MarylandBill

      I think comparing to Bonds is ridiculous. One the one hand, what Paterno is accused of is dramatically more serious; on the other hand, what he did does not appear to have directly impacted the way he or his players played the game. If he really did cover up for Sanduskey that was wrong (Though I think most people don't really appreciate how hard it is to take an action that will destroy someone they once called a friend), but the man is dead; ultimately he is either facing a judge far fairer than we are, or is now completely beyond any possible retribution.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • usarmyoverlord

      They got off easy. Touch my kid and die screaming!!! They placed football over justice and protected a truly evil coward.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Zman1978

    Completely wrong to take away those wins. The coach and studnets won those games fairly all those years. What do they think that everything was wiped away.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Orwell

    Anyone READ the book 1984 ? Is this not what was predicted ? There is a VERY similar passage in the book where the main character had to erase the history of a respected hero.. This is the same thing.. Back when I read it, it would have been total fantasy that something like that could happen.. Now it is totally accepted.. I don't agree with what Joe but this is just as wrong to try and re write history... Society is going down hill in more ways then one... It is very sad to watch... And to be CLEAR I DO NOT support what he did, but this is two wrongs trying to make a right... In my day, I was always told that never made ANYTHING right.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Duke Nukem

    BTW I don't agree with vacating wins; those were achievements by Joe Paterno the coach that he rightly deserved. The statue of him should also have remained. The death penalty alone would have accounted for all of the school's transgressions of the past against those victims and served as a tough lesson learned for the future.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
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