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. Dionysius

    That the NCAA should even be involved in this boggles the mind... this was not about football. This was about cowardice. Which cowardice will be dealt with in the appropriate venues of remediation, the courts. The University, and those directly responsible will be punished as the courts see fit. For the NCAA to function as an extra-legal punitive arm is absurd.
    This tells me that it is time, and well past time to get shut of the whole damn mess revolving around inter-collegiate sports. If you have to have a sanctioning body stick its nose into the business of the people, it has gone too far.
    Time to stop supporting the bulk of team sports on the Middle school, High School and level with tax dollars. Want your child to be an All Star linebacker? YOU support the teams! Long past the time to let the teams support themselves!
    I refuse to support, by my watching, ANY NCAA sanctioned event... recess is over!

    July 24, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • DUH

      Why don't yous just go stand on your head and soil your pants eh?

      July 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. DocReality

    People have the power to choose what they think and believe. If you believe that these sanctions really have the power to take away all the good that has come out of the Penn State program, then that's what you believe. If you believe that certain faculty members such as Paterno and Sandusky need to be held accountable for their actions, then that's what you believe. For me, it's a combination and reminder that human beings are imperfect and make mistakes...sometimes very horrible, atrocious mistakes.

    Paterno, in my eyes, is a good man who didn't know what to do. None of these people knew what to do. The good news, hopefully, is that we'll ALL be more mindful of how to deal with someone like Jerry Sandusky and prevent them from harming innocent children.

    Penn State can turn this around if people choose to believe that the organization has done more good overall versus focusing on the bad.

    You choose.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Andy

    How sad that there are so many PSU students..both current and past..that are more concerned about winning football records then what Sandusky did to children and that JoePa did not force the school to take action when he was told about what was going on. Says a lot about the morals of our sports culture in this country...wining is more important than protecting our children.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • womanity

      llike, Andy

      July 24, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Clyde

    Vacating Paterno's victories is asinine. Doing so is like saying his silence was a performance enhancing drug being used by all those players during all those victories. As I said, dumb and silly, too!

    July 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Greg

    His career was more important to him than protecting children – that's what Jo Pa will be remembered for. Too bad he didn't live long enough to die in disgrace.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. John

    The good news is that this should give PSU until around 2030 to think about ways to prevent child abuse. They certainly won't have much football to think about until then.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sassafrasnewport

    Paternomay have been the better coach but Bowden was the better man.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bob

    Who regulates the NCAA? They seemed to have dropped the ball here with monitoring this sports program. Should the NCAA also be held accountable? Where does the 60 million go now? Should New Orleans have their Superbowl win vacated for their bounty program?

    July 24, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • An obvious Winner

      You read one article and threw up a bunch of questions? How about you be intelligent here and do a little research.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Football

      Who kidding who….
      60 million dollars is chump change for PSU, they make that annually at the gate, the fine needed to be significant, how about 600 million dollars for the abuse program. The figure they arrive at needs to get PSU attention, the culture needs to change and with a huge fine that will gather PSU attention.
      Current footballers who want to stay at PSU have played too long without helmets…. Really if they have any desire to play at the next level they need to be in a good program; PSU fails dearly in this regard.
      All Scholarships, at PSU should be taken away for the next 5 years.
      Finally Mark E with the NCAA should be fired. Too little, too late and too long to respond. What a dirt bag, if the board had any sense, they should send him packing, yesterday.

      July 24, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • skipper Sam

      USC had their 2004 BCS championship vacated 5 years latter cause of Reggie Bush !

      July 24, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Crab

    Paterno was a criminal whose inaction led to the abuse of innocent children. That is how he should, and will, be remembered.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • FKell

      Except for the fact that he did report it to the head of campus police.... And since Joe wasn't the person who actually witnessed anything, he was not a witness to the action, simply someone who was told by the actual witness. In court, anything Joe would and could have said on the matter is hearsay, and in-admissible excepting as to being able to add a statement on the emotional state of the actual witness at the time Joe was informed. In other words, Joe wasn't involved in any way with the matter after he reported to the head of the campus police. He was leaving it as a matter for the police. Did he follow up? No. Should he have? Probably since he worked with the abuser. Did he commit a crime? No, he reported the issue to the police, at which point it was their problem to follow up and do something. Now should the campus police have done more than they did? Absolutely by passing it onto an outside police force not associated with the school who would have no problems with vested interests.... Again not something that Joe did wrong.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Diane

    The problem with specific sanctions against Paterno is that he is not here to defend himself and vacating those wins "punishes" a lot of innocent, hard working football players, other coaches, etc. Just like a defendent who a dies before sentencing and his conviction vacated; even more so in this case, the NCAA needs to focus on the PSU as a whole and the football program as a whole, but not personally on Paterno; as he is not able to receive due process as was Sandusky. I realize the NCAA is not a court of law, but I'd like to think fairness should apply.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert Shaperio

      Diane...please dont talk about fairness and what is fair punishment. If you want to talk about what is fair ask the victims.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. WillyWalnuts

    Spread the word... there's a movement to support Joe's honor and attend the current Penn State Football games = en-masse. The NCAA penalized thousands of innocent people with their draconian sanctions – and NO NCAA RULES WERE BROKEN in this fiasco. I have had 4 season tickets for 30 years and will keep them.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hmmmm

      No, the only thing broken were laws.

      Joe Pa will always be remembered as the man who did not do the right thing!!

      July 24, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • skipper Sam

      Tell it to FSU ! If not for NCAA sanctions, Coach Bowden would have kept the record. Paterno only got it because the NCAA took away 12 games from him.So who is really the record-holder?

      July 24, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • skipper Sam

      Lucky you

      And the bathrooms, concession stand and parking lot will be way less crowded with loyal fans after your team goes 4-7 this season.

      And make sure tomorrow you get you camera out and get a picture of Silas Redd before he transfers to USC.

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

    There are a lot of victims in this situation. The kids didn't deserve what Sandusky did to them obviously. However, think about the students of Penn State who are basically having their education devalued because of something they had nothing to do with...people that are in their final year or two of college at Penn State and can't easily transfer out. Also, think about the local economy of the area. Local businesses could be negatively impacted because of the NCAA decision. I am not saying the abuse victims lives are worth less than the Penn State football program, but will the sanctions that were put in place bring back those guy's innocence or heal their wounds? I think holding the individuals responsible that should have protected those kids at the time would be a better thing to do. Jerry Sandusky is gonna rot in prison...he deserves it. Hopefully Spanier, Curley and the others will also be held responsible and punished for their unethical and immoral behavior. I have to believe that Joe Paterno's death was a result of him realizing that he had done the ultimate wrong in the situation. Naive maybe, but in my opinion, there's nothing to be done where Paterno is concerned. You can't lynch his family for his mistakes.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • skipper Sam

      So what are you saying,

      If Penn State goes 6-6 the next 4 years...
      1) The loyal fans will leave.
      2) The students education will suffer ?

      July 24, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Chris

    I'll remember Paterno and as a good man and great coach who made a horrible mistake toward the end of his career. All of you without sin can keep throwing stones at Joe Paterno

    July 24, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert Shaperio

      Yes chris we have all made mistakes and commited sin. But most of us have not committed this level of gross neglect and mistake.

      July 24, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jackson

    They will alter it for some, and won't alter it for others....and the world will keep spinning.....

    July 24, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Lost Cruzer

    If the NCAA truly believes these events were so horrific why did they dole out justice only to Penn State and not to themselves. When the NCAA surrenders ALL profits THEY made from the Penn State victories that no longer exist then we can say justice was served. Until that day the NCAA is still the most hypocritical organization on the planet. Funny how the NCAA makes even the NFL look like amateurs when it comes to profiting from the good AND the bad players, coaches, executives, etc.

    July 24, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
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