Joe Paterno Fired: Why Big Ten Must Remove Name from Championship Trophy

Eric Freeman, Jr.Contributor IIINovember 9, 2011

Former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno.
Former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno.Rob Carr/Getty Images

"Effective immediately."

Those were the words of Vice-Chairman John P. Surma of the Board of Trustees of Penn State University Wednesday night when he announced the firing of Joe Paterno and the resignation of school president Graham Spanier.

After days of scandal, rumors and allegations, the decision had been made. The legend had ended with a tragic whimper.

As the students flocked to the old Main Building in State College to show support for the legend, the Board of Trustees' decision was about the culture of Penn State, its perception in the country, and specifically in the Big Ten. Students shouted chants of "BRING BACK JOEPA" and "F$%^ SANDUSKY," as more joined them to be together to mourn the end of a legendary coaching career.

For the moment, the terrible scandal—marked by horrifying allegations of child sex abuse on former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, charged with 40 criminal counts of molestation of young boys through his own charitable foundation for at-risk kids—relented after Paterno announced he would retire at the end of the year. For the Trustees, this wasn't soon enough.

In the end, the Trustees made the right decision.

It saddens me to write this. Like countless others, I rooted for and respected Joe Paterno and the Penn State program. Even Paterno's Big Ten rivals had to give credit to the man who manned the helm of one of the toughest, most revered football programs in the country for 61 year (45 as head coach). He is the all-time leader in victories (409) by a FBS head coach, including a record 24 bowl victories, three Big Ten championships and two national titles.

Chairman Steve Garban and Vice Chairman John P. Surma announce the firing of Joe Paterno in a Wednesday night press conference.
Chairman Steve Garban and Vice Chairman John P. Surma announce the firing of Joe Paterno in a Wednesday night press conference.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Brooklyn-born Paterno's legacy, however, has been near irrevocably tarnished by this scandal, and his name will now forever be associated by a horrifying final chapter already being called one of the biggest in college sports history by many outsiders.

Regardless of the crime itself—for whom no one is to blame but Jerry Sandusky—it looks like Paterno could have done more to prevent further child abuse and, again, the Board of Trustees had no choice.

In turn, neither should the Big Ten conference have much choice in this matter, the first year of its current two-division format of Legends and Leaders. The inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, to be held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, will feature the top two schools from each division, playing for the Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy.

Regardless of the role Joe Paterno played in making the Big Ten one of the elite conferences in college football, the scandal has ruined his name, and in its inaugural season, the Big Ten cannot begin its new format under such dark clouds.

A clean break is needed, and the Big Ten needs to remove Paterno's name from the trophy.

It would be unfair to the two competitors in the championship game to be forced to play and/or be privy to any sort of association with Penn State's scandal—and that includes Joe Paterno and his name.

As such, the Big Ten should act in the same vein as the Penn State Board of Trustees and remove itself from association with the heartbreaking situation in State College.

Fans will not stop loving Joe Paterno. Former players are sure to flood the airwaves this week with memories of, for all intents and purposes, the greatest college football coach of all time; and as they should. Still, the Big Ten needs to protect its teams and schools in the same fashion that the Board of Trustees attempted to protect Penn State University from this terrible situation.