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. Thersipus

    I'm glad those players are putting their wins in front of the victims lives that were ruined. Good job college football players.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Kipper Hopls

    Bowden is not #1. EVERYONE knows that, without a doubt.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kim

    Well, if their stupid football games are wiped from the records it's only because they deserve it. Looking the other way while children are being hurt...for shame!

    July 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cliff

      Who is "they"? The players played the games. The players won the games. They did nothing wrong.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Delilah

    Yes. Sanctions alter our perceptions of Penn State and Joe Paterno. And, yes, it is about time that EVERY ADULT becomes responsible for protecting children and ANY victim of abuse. Don't just walk away. Don't cover up. It is long overdue!!!! It is justice.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • LarryB

      Yeah. Are you listening, Mr. Pope Benedict? That goes for you too!

      July 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dave

    The NCAA has managed to successfully expand the number of innocent victims who have been helplessly affected by someone with all the power. Great job – way to teach an important lesson about life!

    July 24, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. sonotso

    From Joe Pa to Joe Pa thetic. Sickos

    July 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Thersipus

    I run and climb mountains.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Blondie

    The Paterno family needs to put a latch on it. Trying to defend Joe Paterno at this point is moot. FINALLY an appropriate consequence has taken place against a giant machine that was allowed to make ENORMOUS PROFIT at the expense of small and vulnerabe children.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • PSUProf

      Blondie, I agree. They need to just keep quiet (for their own good and the good of PSU). However, profiting from football at the expense of vulnerable children is just a silly connection to make. First, you obviously do not understand university budgets. PSU does not profit from football, the athletic department profits from football. The people that really profit from football are the students who participate in non-revenue sports. The problem with the fines is that the NCAA really isn't even necessarily punishing the football program which can support its own lavish living. Now, however, it won't be able to support, for example, swimming, track and field, field hockey, etc. The really issue I have is that the NCAA is acting just like the PSU administration. Overstepping their bounds (to protect student-athletes) and ignoring the legal system that was set up to handle these things. See more at http://unstablefocus.com.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blondie

      I don't know if "silly" is the right description. I actually have no idea about how a University of entirely financed...but that school's name and reputation is in bed with that team. I think the quagmire of corporate sponsorship, wall street, government support and whatever else involved and the few people with their second homes in The Hamptons would beguile even someone who may work for a University and feel they "know" what is actually going on. Money and greed are a sneaky road.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. rizzo

    I'm not against the decision, but I do hope Spanier gets slapped in jail.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • cleareye1


      July 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mark

    Did the assaults take place on the field while they were playing? Did the assaults help Paterno coach better and win more? That is about the most pathetic sanction Ihave seen out of the NCAA! Paterno was still a great coach behind one major mistake!

    July 24, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • oakhill

      Yep. One major completely avoidable mistake, the consequences of which will permanently mar the lives of a bunch of young people. Being a great coach of an activity that involves throwing or carrying an object around a field does not even begin to eclipse his lack of moral judgement, which was apparently swayed by his desire to protect the aforesaid activity. No comparison.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Clear Vision

      Mark, what you, the pundits, and the students and alumni of PSU are failing to realize is that WHEN YOU WORK FOR A UNIVERSITY ON THOSE LEVELS, YOU REPRESENT THE UNIVERSITY. YOU ARE AN AGENT OF THE UNIVERSITY. The university owns all records and championships associated during those years, not the players. These players can cry all they want, they were never allowed to cash in on the success of their college career (except for those professionally drafted) anyway. HOWEVER, How many times does PSU sell their decades-long success to their marketing partners and potential sponsors? All during the time these kids were being abused. It's called collateral damage for a reason. This is why YOU DO NOT HARBOR Pedophiles. This is common sense not holier than thou.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      I'm not sure if I agree with removing wins is the best punishment, but indirectly not reporting the crimes could have easily helped Paterno win more games. It is realistic, that even with full cooperation and reporting, some players would have chosen to go to another school which reasonably could have led to different results.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      That "one mistake" caused a pedofile to continue to harm children. No man nor football is above that.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. cleareye1

    Legacy? The sooner he is forgotten the better for all. His legacy is one of disgrace mixed in with some football wins.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mermaid

    CLEAN House! Fire evey coach, assistant or staffer who knew something and did NOTHING! Move on and let the football program and the university rebuild after NO bowl games and a big fat fine! But unless you live in a Star Wars universe, turning back the clock to negate wins is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard! Stupid NCAA action....stupid!

    July 24, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. gavin

    How does the NCAA get off with re-writing history in view of what has happened. The facts are the facts. How can they simply change history. The PSU football team won those games. Why punish the players and the PSU teams? Why not just punish the men who were responsible and guilty for protecting Sandusky? What's the NCAA's reasoning here? Guilt by association?The teams and the players who are being punished had nothing to do with this. Doesn't make any sense?

    July 24, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • cleareye1

      The players all know who won the games. This only relates to the ego driven record books of the NCAA. It should be their turn for an in depth investigation by Congress.

      July 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Clear Vision

      I wish the majority of the people posting on here would stop wishing that the NCAA was a court, and understand that it is a GOVERNING BODY FOR COLLEGIATE ATHLETICS. These individuals represented "the program" at its highest levels, therefore this is the only appropriate punishment. I ask you (in this non-exact example) Were only the people who caused 9/11 punished? or Did hundreds of millions of Americans lose some basic freedoms as a result?

      July 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tom

    Now I realize the rush to heap more and more punishment is a surrogate to punishing the Catholic church for it's years and years of abuse, but what value is there to punishing the students who played those games. They didn't do anything, but it makes the NCAA look good and of course it helps the victims, or does it.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      What the heck are you talking about Tom?

      July 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. DL

    So what happens to the huge bonuses Paterno and the others in the athletic department received for the wins? Does his estate have to return that money? Seems fair to me. In the end he showed himself to be a loser.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
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