Perhaps the best perspective on the demise of Joe Paterno’s legacy is the one held by another college football coaching legend.
“The good part about Paterno,” said St. John’s (Minn.) coach John Gagliardi, “is he’s gone. I don’t think he’s aware of any of this.”
Paterno died of cancer six months ago at age 85, just two months after his dismissal from Penn State over his role in covering up the decades-old Sandusky scandal. The scant consolation is that Paterno was at least spared the pain of watching the final resolution of this sordid situation, one that he helped create.
On Sunday, Paterno’s statue came tumbling down.
On Monday, the NCAA hammered down on the Penn State football program Paterno spent 46 years building.
“I don’t know what to think,” said Gagliardi, who is now the only known 85-year-old college football coach. “I haven’t been able to quite assimilate it all.”
It’s a lot to digest. The NCAA didn’t give the Nittany Lions the “death penalty,” but what it did may have been worse.
• An unprecedented $60 million fine, the equivalent of a season’s worth of Penn State football revenue. That money will be placed in an endowment to programs preventing child sexual abuse and assisting its victims.
• The loss of 10 scholarships in each of Penn State’s next two recruiting classes. By 2014, the Nittany Lions’ football scholarships will be capped at 65. It is a crippling blow for a Division I football program.
• A bowl ban for the next four seasons. Penn State also won’t be allowed to share in the Big Ten’s bowl revenues.
• All of Penn State’s victories from 1998-2011 will be vacated. That’s a total of 111, knocking Joe Paterno from the top spot on the all-time NCAA Division I victory list. His career total falls from 409 to 298.
“That’s the sad part,” said Gagliardi, who remains college football’s all-divisions victories leader with 484. “Sandusky, if he had behaved properly, nobody would have had to do anything.
“Obviously, they did a thorough job of bringing in the FBI guy (Louis Freeh) to investigate,” Gagliardi added. “And if it’s all true, it’s pretty sad.”
As with most NCAA sanctions, the biggest impact of Monday’s directives will be felt by current Nittany Lions players and fans — people who had nothing to do with Sandusky or the Penn State administration.
“It’s always the case,” Gagliardi said. “With Southern Cal (currently on NCAA probation), they’re doing the same thing there. Going way back to Southern Methodist, it was the same.”
Southern Methodist’s football program received the NCAA “death penalty” in 1987 due to the discovery of massive violations. The NCAA took a different approach in Penn State’s case, and Gagliardi feels it was the correct one.
“At least they didn’t give them the death penalty here. I think they learned something from that,” he said. “With SMU, they hurt all their opponents. They hurt all the people who work at the stadium.
“At least I think they did the right thing here,” Gagliardi said. “Talk about hurting people who had nothing to do with it.”
But really, there was going to be an element of that regardless of what decision the NCAA had rendered.
Monday’s sanctions are particularly painful for the innocent parties connected with Penn State, individuals who were betrayed by their school’s coaches and administrators.
“Maybe Penn State will never come back (to its previous level),” Gagliardi said.
And that would be just another layer to the tragedy. There are plenty of people here to feel badly for:
players, students, fans, opponents, other coaches, anybody who loves college football.
But Gagliardi feels especially badly for one particular group.
“I really feel bad for all the kids,” he said, “and the damage (Sandusky) did.”
Everything else aside, they will always be the biggest victims of all.
John Gagliardi on Joe Paterno, Penn State’s NCAA sanctions
Saint Cloud Times
July 24, 2012