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. Andrew

    The family is right about one thing. Paterno and the school was not subjected to due process which is a key underlying factor of proper justice for our country whether it be through private or public matters.

    July 23, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • longshot

      Because it is child abuse, it is open season to simply through away due process and condemn anyone and everyone without any facts. Despite Freeh's assumptions, there have yet to be any facts to show Paterno knew the details about the 1998 incident, or that Paterno encouraged or participated in the 2001 coverup. None. Only Freeh's assumptions.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • leave it alone

      when joepa was told he did pass it on. he told his boss. that is who dropped the ball not joepa. at that point they should have taken any access away from him. keys etc......

      July 24, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • TwM

      Please note Penn State accepted the verdict without hesitation because it could have (should have) been much worse.
      The Family , is crying and whining because they know everything they have is going to be taken from them shortly via civil suits.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dano

    The fact that Paterno asked to have his contract redone to add incentives such as retiring at the end of 2011, to add that his wife would be allowed to use the university facilities in perpetuity, to have his house put entirely in his wife's ownership AFTER he testified before the grand jury makes me believe Paterno knew he had done wrong. Maybe if he had done something in 1998 like oh say BANNING SANDUSKY FROM THE ATHLETIC FACILITIES I would feel differently about JoePa but since he did not that makes him one thing -a PIMP for Sandusky. Paterno dying of cancer meant he got off too easy. He should be in jail with Sandusky.

    July 23, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meredith

      Oh, you're right! Light the torches! Burn the house down! Shaddup already! OR it could have been a man who knew he had terminal cancer, and wanted to make sure his family was provided for...stop this nonsense already! With people like you, NOTHING is ever going to be good enough!!!

      July 23, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • TwM

      Agreed. Patrno knew he was in it deep. Best thing that could have happened was his dying before this all unfolded.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tyler

    Hey Paterno family- if you don't like what is happening just turn away and pretend it isn't happening. Your family has a rich tradition of doing that.

    July 23, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • yelworc1

      Exactly, none of them could give a damn about the victims, they see themselves as the victims. What's sad is that they have actually made public statements like this, like how deluded are the rich and powerful? Its all those years growing up being treated as better than everyone else. Wake up its over you have been dethroned, nothing will change that. They should sneak off and disappear from the public for the rest of their lives.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • leave it alone

      sandusky would have liked you tyler

      July 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ~~~

    columbine had little thugs also. a group of about 7 that went around like little thugs.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dennis Olivo

    They shall be forever more known as the Penn State Chicken Hawkes

    July 23, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Robert

    Who is Joe Paterno?

    July 23, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Doug

    Isn't it curious that we are so quick to accept as true a report written by the individual who was head of the FBI and didn't recognize that the 9/11 attackers were in the US, planning their attacks, taking flying lessons (but not landing lessons), and was not sufficiently competent to recognize these facts as troubling. Yet we immediately accept his report as if it were flawless. Let's also remember the Penn State Board of Trustees, the same people who fired Paterno, have ordered and paid for Freeh's investigation. Is there any possibility that they ordered this investigation and report because of the heat they were receiving for firing Paterno, particularly in the manner they did (i.e., sending a sticky note to his home via messenger with a request that he call the President of the Trustees). I think it is best not to be viewed with respect in America anymore. So many people can't wait for people of greater integrity than themselves to make a mistake so that they can try to bring that person down to their own level. I guess it makes people feel better about their own miserable lives.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meredith

      My thoughts EXACTLY!!! Thank you!!! It had to be said!!!

      July 23, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • TwM

      What is more curious is people like you in denial, the man interviewed Hundreds of people and aquired a very strong arguement against Paterno. He went in with no INTENTION of going after Paterno, it just fell into his lap after hearing interview after interview, cover up after cover up. Think about that ..

      July 24, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • atljack

      No... those who don't drink the kool-aid of St Paterno can see the truth. Paterno shielded a child rapist for 14 years.

      We accept the Freeh Report because it was a thourough impartial investigation conducted by Judge Freeh who also happened to head the FBI.

      You nitwits want to believe the Paterno Family Report which is absurd, of course. How can they be unbiased? The family hired a (incompetent) PR firm to spin the story. But the story can't be spun.

      Paterno was not what he portrayed. He was interested in his legacy...which is why he was still pretending to be the Head Coach at age 85...

      July 25, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  8. Pilgrim1

    Do sanctions alter history books on Penn State and Paterno's legacy? Nope

    Joe Paterno altered his own legacy.....

    July 23, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jim_34

    Why didn't McQueary in 2001 call the police when he saw Sandusky assaulting the boy in the shower. Why didn't the District Attorney charge Sandusky in 1998 when a mother called police about Sandusky showering with her son.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • leave it alone

      exactly well put.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • TwM

      Becasue Paterno covered his behind.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • atljack

      Because the climate created by Paterno left no doubt that anyone who put a blemish on the football program would be at their peril. This is why the janitors kept silent. They knew what Paterno would do (keep it quiet and they would be fired)

      July 25, 2012 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  10. D

    JP, and all accomplices should have been in that theatre in aurora, then I would say, thank you holmes.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jillianj

    I feel bad for the players.. for the ones that didn't know what was going on.. its not their fault. Pantero isn't here to defend himself either, to let us all know what he knew and what he didn't know. They're just assuming he knew about everything that was going on, he may have, or he may not have.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • mm

      NEWSFLASH! He knew.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Doug

    I find it curious that the new President of Penn State Rodney Erickson, in the atmosphere of openness, transparency, and honesty that he plans to bring to the university, issues a statement that was made public only moments before the statue was removed, perhaps so no one could protest his decision. That statement, issued around 7 a.m. Sunday, said Erickson decided to remove the statue and put it into storage because it "has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing." Now, I've been to another place in Pennsylvania, not too far removed from Happy Valley, known as Gettysburg. That hallowed ground is marked by numerous statues to both Northern and Southern military regiments who fought there for three days, with up to 50,000 soldiers being killed or injured. I suppose that we must now remove those statues, as well as those in the other battlegrounds of the Civil War. Clearly, during the past century or so that those statues have existed, they have been a "source of division and an obstacle to healing" of a once divided country. We learn from those statues about the mistakes of our past. We do not pretend that our country was not once divided by removing the statues. The Paterno statue had a lesson to offer everyone. We are defined not solely by the good things we do, but also by our most serious mistakes. Perhaps Rodney Erickson is not a very good educator after all.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • tryclyde

      Really Doug? You're finding fault with the new president already? Did you ever think that the statue was moved discreetly because the last time Penn Staters were given news they didn't like (JoePa's firing) THEY RIOTED IN THE STREETS?!

      July 23, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
  13. P

    Bs all these politics, Jp and every other accomplice should be burned to the stake, and I'll supply the matches....burn baby burn!

    July 23, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • leave it alone

      and yet your no better than them go figure.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  14. tryclyde

    .....and moronic Penn Staters are STILL concerned about how many wins they really have. Pitiful. Get lives.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • gedwards

      Actually it seems like the NCAA is who cares about the PSU wins.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Doug

    Hmmm....GREEK American? Wonder what practices you engage in?

    July 23, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meredith

      Insulting...what do you say to african americans, Doug?

      July 24, 2012 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Meredith, they are black, not african american, unless they were born in africa, and applied and was granted american citizenship.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Giant Bushy Mustache

      I love Greek men. they all know how to take it up the ......

      July 24, 2012 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
    • sqeptiq

      So, you're a sodomite?

      July 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • sqeptiq

      So, you and Sanduskey are alike that way?

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

      making really good pastry?

      July 24, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Art

      You have my sympathy, man. You have to be you everyday of your life. Nobody deserves that fate

      July 24, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
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