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. matt

    Can we punish sandusky's wife for being so ignorant and naïve to believe her husband isn't guilty of any wrong-doing? Focus more on him and his idiot family and less on a man who can no longer defend himself and his reputation.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  2. PinMoney Pete

    Several here are saying that the players earned the wins. In some sense, yes. But if Sandusky had been booted in '98, the PSU defensive play set and game decisions would have been different, perhaps other coaches would have left, perhaps top recruits from then on would have played elsewhere. Each victory was scarred. The wins are regrettably void. Put the rings in your dresser drawers and mentor a child.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  3. Rustyfxnws

    Let me ask this. Say Joe Paterno was still coach and it was before scandal. Now Joe wants to meet the university president. Does he call and make an appointment or walk in his office like Joe owns the place. Let's reverse the roles, say the president of Penn State wants to see Joe? Does he set an appointment or walk in? Now everyone knows Joe is going to just walk in, and the president of Penn State is gonna set the appointment. And that folks is the ENTIRE problem at Penn State. Joe Paterno basically owned the damn place, made the rules, made decisions he had no right in the world to make, had power he had no right to weld. All for a stupid f'n game played by about 40 kids, about ten times a year. The CULTURE OF PENN STATE IS GUILTY OF THESE CRIMES! That is why Penn State needs to be punished. This is why every student athlete needs to be punished. Reading what has been written, Penn State Students, Alumni, and supports still are living in the Penn State athletics is the most powerful thing culture. Here is the punishment I suggest. I would ask the Pennsylvania state government to codify this. No Football for an entire generation (25 years), no sports programs of any kind for ten years, and no athletlic scholarships til the year 2100. Penn State can go and be a place of learning, nothing more.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Ghilley

      The sanctions you proposed would castrate Penn

      July 24, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Robert

    well only Joepa knows the truth of what he knew & he took that to the grave, so since the NCAA is so busy giving out punishment maybe they can take all the money JoePa gave to PSU over his life and give that to the people that got abused

    July 24, 2012 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
  5. rg

    If only one person that knew of Sandusky's going on's had picked up the telephone and called the police, this would not be
    happening to Penn St. University today. Such a shame. You can rest assured there a a lot more out there that knew while the man still worked there and will never own up to it.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
  6. DavidM

    How do you take away wins? What a pile of crap this is. Those wins had nothing to do with the scandal and taking them away will do nothing to help those poor kids or bring any justice to the situation. The two had nothing to do with each other, and the NCAA has done itself and all sports a great disservice by pretending that they did. We can all debate what Joe Pa should or should not have done, but that has nothing to do with his greatness as a coach or all the good things he did for Penn State. They want to punish someone who one report said could have done more and who, being dead, cannot defend himself against the allegations ( are you listening, Penn State? ALLEGATIONS). There is plenty of shame to go around, but now the NCAA can claim its share.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
    • thereyouhaveit

      Yes, I totally agree . . . Joe Paterno was only one of the wheels that ran the machine called Penn State. Alot of people are running scared, so what better guy to take the hit than a dead one. The NCAA HAS to make an example out of someone considering the angry climate that surrounds this whole pathetic ordeal. And they've chosen Joe . . . sometimes I think the NCAA did that only to prove their own relevance . . . it's their fifteen minutes of fame so-to-speak.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
    • ddblah

      It does help, mind you.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
  7. The_Mick

    The fact is that Joe Pa and Sandusky never took part in a single play on the field. The players that excelled in the games from 1998 on are being unfairly punished.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
  8. Nunya Bidness

    All you whiners need to understand, the players do still have their memories. No one is even trying to diminish what they accomplished and by some of the things they've said they get that.

    But Penn State and all of football, even all of sports needs to be taught a lesson.

    Money and the game (whatever game) is NOT more important than protecting kids.

    do the right thing or suffer the consequences. It's that simple. the cultures that enabled this has to stop on the field and in corporate boardrooms.

    Bankers, you're next.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
  9. Dave D

    Honest to God, as a youngster I used to like PSU football, the unis, the style......but I ALWAYS found it tough to root for them because I couldn't stand JoePa. He seemed so phony to me, even as a 10 yr. old I could sense something...... The school will eventually recover but thank God we ALL now know the truth about this MONSTER!

    July 24, 2012 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
    • xgrunt

      Concur. I grew up on PA with the same assessment. GO PITT!

      July 24, 2012 at 1:39 am | Report abuse |
  10. Kleo Knights

    Penn State, former players, and alumni; it’s called consequence. You’re beloved leaders didn’t do what moral and justified leaders do. It’s not about taking away a game you won, it’s about not morally deserving to be there, much less win, in the first place.

    July 24, 2012 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  11. michael

    It`s football get over it. The coach lied, so what. What is inportant is that you learn from it and move on.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:13 am | Report abuse |
  12. Bryan

    haha....yeah is this kinda like UMASS didn't go to the 1996 final four....whatever...Joe Paterno is the all time winningest coach.....go suck an egg NCAA

    July 24, 2012 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
  13. Mektah

    What no one seems to get is this does nothing, but hurt more people. The NCAA is not being fair here.

    I don't have a problem with his wins being vacated. Don't have a problem with the school losing wins. Like many people say you can't take away the memories. I don't even have a problem with the 60 million penalty to go towards the victims.

    I have a problem with scholarships being taken away, because that hurts students who have absolutely nothing to do with this. Football programs at schools fund other less profitable athletics, which means that other athletes and coaches who had nothing to do with this are being punished. The people who the money is being taken from are innocent. The ones guilty have gotten their pay and will walk away scot free short of any legal charges. Those are the people that need to be shown a lesson. This is like a cop writing a ticket for five miles over while everyone else is going 10-20 miles over. And the school doesn't care because they for the most part are dumping the blame on Joe Pa. Sad. This was an isolated event to which few people had access to the information. The school, the NCAA, need to punish those people directly. And not people outside of that group.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
    • xgrunt

      Your cop analogy speaks to discretion. Joe Pa had the discretionary authority to protect the young men that Sandusky was abusing and he failed. As a leader, Joe had great and vast powers and he failed to exercise that same discretionary authority when it was needed most - to protect kids. This happened under his watch and unfortunately, this is the price leaders pay for everyone that held Joe Pa as a demagogue of PSU.

      July 24, 2012 at 1:38 am | Report abuse |
  14. PhilG

    The NCAA's ruling makes perfect sense.

    Paterno and the top people with him chose football wins and money over the protection of the children under their care.

    So the NCAA took away thier football wins and the school's money.

    Blame Paterno and the few men at the top who failed to protect the children under their care.

    Not the NCAA.

    The message is clear-protect children first-everything else comes second.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:24 am | Report abuse |
  15. xgrunt

    The leadership at Penn State failed the university, the students and the athletes. Because we trust and empower our leaders like Joe Paterno with vast and powerful discretionary authority, the result is that the PSU community is forced to pay the price for entrusting him with our sons, daughters and representing the great state of Pennsylvania. Accountability starts with our leaders, unfortunately many of the people who are speaking out against the sanctions either fail to recognize or do not want to acknowledge that accountability. For years, Joe Pa was beyond reproach. Unfortunately for his legacy, his family and those who played for him, he made an egregious leadership error that many will continue to pay the price for a long time - especially the young men that Joe failed to protect.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
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