Removing Joe Paterno's statue from the Penn State campus was symbolic, but on Monday morning, the NCAA sanctions have concretely removed Paterno from his prior perch in college football history.
NCAA penalties: 4 year bowl ban, 20 total/10 annual scholarship reduction for 4 yrs, $60 million fine, Vacating all wins from '98-2011— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) July 23, 2012
So Paterno's legacy will literally be tarnished, as officially his record will no longer include any wins from 1998 to 2011. On Monday morning, Joe Paterno officially lost his distinction as the most successful coach in major college football history.
Paterno goes from 409 all-time wins, which was first, to 298, 12th, by my count.— Jason Weitzel (@beerleaguer) July 23, 2012
But Paterno's legacy wasn't just about wins; it was supposed to be about doing things the right way, with dignity and honor. As the NCAA sanctions and Freeh Report before them have decided, he failed to live up to his own expectations for excellence from 1998 to 2011.
Because of that, the Penn State football program will be absolutely crippled over the next four years. In the eyes of many, that will be Paterno's lasting legacy: When he was finally dismissed from the head coaching position, he left the "Death Penalty" in his wake.
It may not officially be the "Death Penalty," but in all honesty, it's probably worse than what SMU was given in 1987, when it was prohibited from competing over an entire season. The redefined "Death Penalty" at Penn State raises a number of questions for the school.
How many players currently on scholarship will take up the NCAA's offer to transfer away from the school without losing a year of eligibility?
How will the foundation of the football program sustain the loss of 10 scholarships per year?
How many players will stay away knowing they won't be able to play in a bowl game for four years?
How will the $60 million fine affect the other sports that are funded in part by revenues brought in by the football team, or the revenues likely to be lost over the next four years?
There was always going to be collateral damage in these sanctions, and that damage is now the final chapter in the biography of Joe Paterno. His legacy before last year was as the architect of one of the most successful college football programs in the country.
He built that program. And after Monday, it's clear that his actions severely damaged its future. It's not the fall of Rome, but in college football, it's as close as it gets.
And may it be loud and clear to every other college football program out there that it is not larger than life. College football coaches are not infallible, and they should not be held up as idols. Fanaticism by student bodies and alumni only facilitates the sort of insular power structure we saw at the core of Penn State football.
I will remember Joe Paterno for more than just this scandal. I will try to remember the good he also did for many in his life. I will try to remember that he was simply a man, never worthy of holy reverence nor single-minded damnation.
But even the good memories in my own mind about JoePa will now have an asterisk next to them.
Officially, 111 wins are gone. His reputation has been muddied, forever associated with a cover-up of Jerry Sandusky's despicable actions. The future of the program he built and loved has been substantially crippled given the NCAA sanctions.
Joe Paterno's statue no longer stands on Penn State's campus. And now, the ground on which it once stood is fissured as well.
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