NCAA decision to restore Penn State wins not a complete triumph
Not everybody is happy after the agreed on Friday to restore football wins it had stripped from Penn State and Joe Paterno in the Jerry Sandusky child-molestation scandal.
The agreement, approved by the boards of the NCAA and the university after intermittent talks heated up this week, lifts the last of the sanctions imposed in 2012 and wipes away the black marks that had tainted one of the nation’s most celebrated college athletics programmes.
It reinstates Paterno as the winningest coach in major college football history, prompting the family of the man who died as the scandal was unfolding to hail the agreement.
But lawyers for Sandusky’s victims worried that the NCAA’s retreat sent the wrong message. And in State College, home to Penn State’s sprawling main campus, nicknamed Happy Valley, not everybody felt warmly toward the NCAA. The sanctions damaged Penn State and its reputation, and that will take time to heal, many said.
“Getting the wins back is more of a gesture,” said Jason Rohrer, a student season-ticket holder from Philadelphia. “It’s not like all of a sudden, ‘Oh, yeah, the wins are back, we’re fine now.’ It’s more of, ‘The damage has been done, the way you guys handled it hurt us as a community. We came through it and it’s nice, I guess, for you guys to be able to do this for us.’”
Michael Boni, a lawyer for one of the victims who testified at Sandusky’s trial, said he does not believe Paterno’s victories should be reinstated because they were “tarnished” by Sandusky. He also said he sensed a shift in Penn State’s attitude after the criminal case against Sandusky wrapped up and the university concluded civil settlements with victims.
“There was a movement away from what I thought was a genuine mea culpa on the part of Penn State, having accepted the NCAA sanctions, and one toward, ‘Why did we cave so easily?’ That was disappointing,” Boni said.
After more than two years of criticism that the NCAA had overstepped its authority, officials with college sports’ governing body said they made the deal to end litigation that had held up distribution of the university’s $60m fine to fund child abuse prevention programs.
Paterno’s family called the agreement “a great victory for everyone who has fought for the truth in the Sandusky tragedy”, and they blasted the penalties as an unjust attack on the university, coaches, players and administrators.
Paterno’s son, Jay Paterno, a former football team assistant coach, said the family’s fight against the NCAA was never about the wins, but rather about undoing the damage done by the NCAA and Penn State’s board of trustees, which agreed to the sanctions.
“I’m more happy for the guys who made the sacrifices on and off the field, guys who got hurt, guys who were up till 2 o’clock in the morning to get their degree to make us into a program that all of us could be proud of,” Paterno said.
The pact emerged just days after a federal judge declined to rule on the constitutionality of the sanctions and weeks before a court was to hold a trial on the legality of the penalties.
“Today is a victory for Penn State nation,” said Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, who had sued the NCAA with state Treasurer Rob McCord. “The NCAA has surrendered.”
The penalties sprung from the scandal that erupted when Sandusky, a retired assistant coach, was accused of sexually abusing boys, some of them on campus.
The sanctions eliminated all wins from 1998, when police investigated a mother’s complaint that Sandusky had showered with her son, through 2011, Paterno’s final season as head coach after six decades with the team and the year Sandusky was charged.
The restored wins include 111 under Paterno and the final victory of 2011, after trustees fired Paterno in the wake of the charges against Sandusky and the team was coached by Tom Bradley. That returns Paterno’s record to 409-136-3. He died of lung cancer at 85 shortly after the season ended.
Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts and is now serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence.