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. tryclyde

    Hey Buck, they just did. Paterno is now #8 on the wins list. Sorry to break it to you.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nick

      he is now 12th sorry to break it to YOU

      July 23, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • leave it alone

      12 overall and 5th all time D1

      July 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • nottolate

      "Hey Buck, they just did. Paterno is now #8 on the wins list."

      In the mind of the liar and the censorious perhaps, but he'll always be number one to them that know the truth.

      July 24, 2012 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
    • pontoonpilot

      Paterno is still as much the freak and criminal as Sandusky. Personally, those at PSU who still revere him should be considered complicit in his crime of shielding Sandusky.

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

      In retrospect, it's hard to reconcile a reference to Joe Paterno and "the truth" in the same sentence....

      July 24, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • echo40

      Clearly PSU education doesn't mean people can read. Bobby Bowden had 12 wins taken away. so... by your logic. "Jo Pa" was never the winningest....

      July 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • nice

      nottolate [sic] wrote: "In the mind of the liar and the censorious perhaps, but he'll always be number one to them that know the truth."

      Nice that you label people like this. But I can tell you what. Saying things like this makes the general population (that doesn't care about football) have quite a low opinion of sports fans. I know you don't care, that's fine.

      My opinion is that most people put the lives of children above a game that to all apperances from the outside is *corrupt* beyond repair. If results are produced on the field, we could care less about what sick stuff is going on in locker rooms with little kids.

      The NCAA doesn't have the power to imprison people, they can't hold them to account criminally. But, they can vacate wins, enact fines, kick people out of the NCAA, etc. That is about it. I'm not sure what you would expect. "We denounce this action, now go buy some tickets for next years lions games!!" ? I mean, this is horrible. It makes sense that it's the largest fine ever enacted by the NCAA.

      That it was done by a man that appeared to be a man of integrety makes it even more sick. It's like a catholic preist. I mean, he was like a cardinal of college football. you know?

      July 24, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • patiat

      8th, 12th, 3rd...it doesn't matter much. In two short generations no one who knew Paterno or cared about his little sports program will be around, and it'll all just be a column of names and numbers in an ever dustier book.

      July 24, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nat Q

      The "truth" is that he essentially cheated to get those wins by knowingly concealing actions that would have led to earlier sanctions and recruiting restrictions. The wins are as tainted as if he'd paid recruits or fixed student grades to keep them eligible. And while he technically won the games, since he had to resort to cheating to do it, the wins are meaningless to them that know.

      July 25, 2012 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
    • NCAA hurt all the remaining innocents

      That just means he is #8 on the "holier than thou" peoples' list. Bowden and every other NCAA coach knows that Paterno is the all time winningnest coach and that doe not change - but if it makes you feel good.......

      July 24, 2012 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
    • if you put the wins back, do it for every team.

      "That just means he is #8 on the "holier than thou" peoples' list. Bowden and every other NCAA coach knows that Paterno is the all time winningnest coach and that doe not change – but if it makes you feel good......."

      Bowden knows Bowden was but for a season he had taken away. Ok to discount his wins but not JoPa's? Fun how you Penn State people learn your sense of justice.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Maybe it'll stay that way for 10 years. Perhaps more. But the point is that 20+ years from now when people turn to the history books, Joe Paterno's name will be missing from it. That's the spirit of the punishment; for his accommodation of Sandusky, his legacy is gone. The NCAA did that as a message to other sports programs, to ensure that no one ever finds wins to be more important than ethics ever again.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • mm

      "Hollier than thou"? Seriously? So, it's hollier than thou to be enraged about what went on in the boys club.
      Crawl back into your basement and watch old football clips and look at your posters of JoePa, we hollier than thou types don't want you or your JoePa boys club.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • creek

      actually by your logic bowden would still be the top of the list because you know he's won more games. cheating and lying, aside.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert Shaperio

      No it was actually Penn State adminisration who hurt all the remaining innocents

      July 24, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Douglas

      I wouldn't say that it makes anyone feel "good" considering the situation but future generations will not consider Paterno the "all-time winningest" coach. They'll look at the official records and he won't be at the top – plain and simple. Eventually even most Penn St fans will be glad that Paterno is being erased from history We now know that he was never who we thought he was and that continuing to support him only makes the university look worse.

      July 24, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • casman53024

      So why aren't those responsible all in a jail cell (just Sandusky)? I do agree with the sanctions and "win stripping". The university, as a whole, needed to suffer consequences. If for no other reason than to show others that you can't get away with terrible actions just because you can get people out of there before they get caught.

      July 25, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • TwM

      think it was 12th

      July 24, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zman1978

      But in reality he has more wins then any one

      July 24, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • skipper Sam

      So Z man the Wonderfull NCAA can take 12 wins from Coach Bowden and you don't have a problem, but touch any victories from St Jo Pap and you scream like a girl.

      July 24, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • skipper Sam

      Let me get this straight Z man
      The Wonderfull all wise NCAA can take 12 wins from Coach Bobby Bowden at FSU, thus Giving Joe Paterno the over all NCAA Division 1A record and you don't have a problem, but touch any victories from St Jo Pap and you scream like a girl. that about it ?

      July 24, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Donna

      exactly...no matter what they THINK they are taking away they aren't. Its history and no matter what they say or refuse to acknowledge it is what it is!

      July 25, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Play Money

      Wait! I give him 500 wins! Now he's #1 again!

      The NCAA is ridiculous.

      July 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. DK

    Sad to punish people that weren't even involved. Those kids played in those games and won. Paterno "could've done more" but did not do anything illegal. Punish Sandusky and maybe the janitors and McQuery, the ones that actually saw something going on.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • yuri pelham

      Didn't do anything illegal. Fool, what if I saw your child drowning and did nothing. I stood on the beach and clapped. It's not illegal. How would you feel then. Oh I once pitched a perfect game.

      July 23, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • leave it alone

      yuri; joepa never seen any contact dummy it was hear say to him and he passed it on, no everyone that saw it was afraid of being fired instead of being moral about it and calling the police, those are the guilty ones, and the ones that suffer besides the boys are the players that made the history that had nothing to do with it.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Alan

    Good discipline.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
  4. DebbieJ

    you know there are a be-zillion people who "could have, would have, and should have" in a million different situations, but didn't. ARE THEY ALL GUILTY?? I am talking about events other then sports, Just everywhere in life– gotta play fair you knw? Look at all the crap that casey anthony "should have" done, BUT THEY FOUND HER NOT GUILTY...

    July 23, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. HOladd1

    Until today I always found the word "vacate" somewhat amusing when applied to a sports contest...after all, it's tough to take an eraser to history (I've often wished to "vacate" a number of monthly bills, but that's another story).

    If someone REALLY wants PSU to vacate those 111 wins, then it should also "vacate" all the associated revenue from those games. Every sponsor deal. Every Nike contract. Every dollar from every TV deal PSU was a part of. Every dollar made from participating in every bowl game. And. So. On.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. IndyVoter

    I've no sympathy for the Paterno family. They remain convinced that the Paterno legacy was more important than the children that were victimized because "the coach" decided that embarasing the team was worse than letting children be abused.

    And when a lawbreaker is sent to jail, innocent people suffer. Their innocent spouse. Their innocent children. This is no different. PSU will now suffer because the thing Paterno sacrificed the children for will now be torn down. He acheived his wins on the suffering of children. And for that, the wins were invalidated.

    The PSU football program must suffer for the sins of Sandusky, Paterno, and the Presidency. And from this, perhaps others will learn the badly needed lesson that winning isn't everything. That how you win is just as important.

    PSU won through shameful acts. The world now knows the wins were falesly obtained. And the authorities have decided that the wins were not wins. They have recalled the game. And PSU has lost.

    It took far too much for the NCAA to wake up. It is time to return sportsmanship to sports.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jood42

      Well reasoned and beautifully stated.

      I've heard so much "what happened was awful but..." and "Why should the athletes suffer?" that I feel a little brittle with anger. The ability to dismiss culpability in the systematic abuse of children, in order to pray at the altar of sports "heroism" is shameful and incomprehensible to me.

      July 23, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dan

    Not anymore. It's too bad Paterno isn't alive to see it.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Burn in h3ll paterno

      if he'd stayed alive just long enough to see it all crumble apart, then died, Ohhhh that would have been even better:-)

      July 24, 2012 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Larry

      He won NOTHING since 1998 Longest losing streak in history. And ever loss by the cheater's score – 1-0.
      People actually PRAISE this protector of a child molester? He is guilty of being an accomplice to child molestation!
      He is, in reality, no different than Sandusky. They ARE – Pedophile State University.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Brian

    Why do we have football in college ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    July 23, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • yuri pelham

      To serve the ego. It's a form of idolatry..

      July 23, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • House


      July 23, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Gus

    I could absolutely care less about college football. I have no interest in the sport, no favorite team, and couldn't give a cr@p who wins or loses each week in that miserable excuse for popular entertainment, but the NCAA's decision to alter history strikes me as patently Orwellian in nature. It is censorship, and un-American. They should be ashamed, but are too concerned about the perceived public appropriateness and level of righteousness of their response to Jerry Sandusky's immoral and criminal behavior. Evidently they believe that two wrongs do make a right. Shame on anyone who agrees with them.

    July 23, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • House

      Shame is no longer an accepted word in the American lexicon.

      July 23, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. House

    Making JP an unperson is just about the best thing that could happen to PSU. First, they erased Sandy's face off of a mural, then they erased JP's halo, then they took away his statue, Orwell was right, "Long Live Big Brother".

    July 23, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. House

    He who controls the past, controls the future.

    July 23, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Marshall

    While Paterno may have known about Sandusky, all the players that made up that football team did not. Why punish the hundreds of innocent players who passed through that football program just to punish 1 dead man?

    July 23, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. decredico

    To those players that got hurt playing: You were fools. Football is an idiotic sport. It's violent and is all about keeping people's mindset prepared for and willing to go to war. Smart parents never let their kids play football. So, too bad about your injuries in those games which have now rightfully been erased. Maybe one day you wise up and realize what morons you were for doing stupid things.

    July 23, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ccseg

    The sanctions are ridiculous ... Football had nothing to do with what Sandusky did ... The NCAA president is just being a big shot bad ass and has not a clue ....No one playing foot ball or associated with foot ball was involved other Than Sandusky .... the college officials who covered it up and shut up Paterno are the ones to blame for the cover up.... them and Sandusky are the ones to punish the ones to blame .... Instead all the players, Coaches, and associated athletic employees are the ones who will suffer.... It is STUPID ... The NCAA has and is way out of line .... someone in authority needs to step in and stop this foolishness.....

    July 23, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dude

    Joe's was utterly clueless for 2+ decades. Amazing that he wasn't put out to pasture a long time ago. He looked the other way while horrific acts took place on his watch- what kind of man allows that stuff to happen? And yet the Paterno family criticizes the Freeh report, boo-hoo's about wins being vacated.... Where is their compassion for the victims? To them, it's all about Joe – its not.

    July 23, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
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