Joe Paterno's family says the NCAA penalties "defame" the coach's legacy
Paterno fans say the penalties are overkill and hurt the wrong people
Overall, public opinion appears to support the tough sanctions
The NCAA fines Penn State, strips Paterno of the victory record, and cuts scholarships
Within 24 hours, Joe Paterno’s statue at Penn State University came down and his record as the winningest coach at the top level of college football disappeared.
The steps by Penn State President Rodney Erickson and the National Collegiate Athletic Association drew sharply differing reactions Monday. They are the latest impact from a child sex-abuse scandal now linked forever to the university’s storied football program.
Paterno’s family and diehard Penn State loyalists condemned the penalties as an overzealous response that unfairly targeted the former coach, who died of lung cancer in January after being fired the previous November to end his 46-year career at the university.
“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,” said a statement by the Paterno family.
The NCAA sanctions included a $60 million fine against Penn State, a four-year ban from bowl games and the loss of 20 football scholarships.
Perhaps most painful to the Paterno family and his fans was the removal of 14 seasons of football victories, covering 1998-2011, which cost Paterno the record as winningest coach in Division 1 history.
“In our minds and hearts, those victories are still there and they still count, which is what makes him a great coach,” said Penn State graduate Ujas Patel, who heads the university’s alumni association chapter in London.
The sanctions came a day after the university removed the 900-pound bronze statue of Paterno from outside Beaver Stadium on the State College campus, saying it had become a symbol of division.
The punishments follow an independent investigation, led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, of the child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted in late June of 45 of the 48 counts he faced involving 10 young victims.
Freeh’s report held four top Penn State officials, including Paterno, responsible for failing to stop the abuse. That failure began in 1998, according to the report.
Paterno’s family called the penalties premature and challenged the veracity of Freeh’s investigation.
“How Sandusky was able to get away with his crimes for so long has yet to be fully understood, despite the claims and assertions of the Freeh report,” said the Paterno family’s statement.
It also called the acceptance of the NCAA penalties by university officials and the board of trustees without a hearing “an abdication of their responsibilities and a breach of their fiduciary duties to the university and the 500,000 alumni.”
“Punishing past, present and future students of the university because of Sandusky’s crimes does not serve justice,” the Paterno family’s statement said. “This is not a fair or thoughtful action; it is a panicked response to the public’s understandable revulsion at what Sandusky did.”
Others with strong ties to the Penn State community also condemned the NCAA sanctions.
“We expected large sanctions but this is overkill,” said Daniel Byrd, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter of the PSU Alumni Association, in a e-mail to CNN.
Byrd praised some of the penalties, such as $60 million the university will give to groups helping victims of child sex abuse, but he argued that the cut in football scholarships and four-year ban from bowl games “benefit nobody.”
“It hurts our student athletes that need grants,” Byrd’s e-mail said.
Across the Atlantic, Patel said the penalties unfairly target the future of the football program that he described as vital to the university.
“I don’t see the program recovering in the next 10 to 15 years,” he told CNN by telephone, adding that “by essentially taking away the main pillar of the university, you are almost pulling the university down.”
On social media, some players wrote they would return next season as a team with a mission.
“PSU vs The World - Day 1 - ,” tweeted tight end Garry Gilliam. Former players, meanwhile, rejected the 111 canceled victories by the NCAA that dropped Paterno’s total from a record 409 to 298.
“They can take away whatever games they want to, I know I was apart of win 400, 409 and all the other games WE won while at PSU,” posted former wide receiver Derek Moye on Twitter.
Supporters of the tough sanctions sounded equally vehement, at least according to online comments to CNN.
“I don(’)t think the defenders of Joe Paterno and Penn State here fully comprehend the barely imaginable severity of the CRIMES that were committed,” wrote a reader with the online handle FlyingfFish. “Not just crimes by Sandusky, but by nearly all of Penn State’s football and academic leadership. This was (literally) institutional sanctioning of child rape for the continued benefit of the football team. I cannot think of anything lower or more despicable. Penn State is getting what they deserve.”
Erickson and other top Penn State officials said they accept the NCAA penalties.
“With today’s announcement and the action it requires of us, the university takes a significant step forward,” Erickson said in a written statement, while Acting Athletic Director David Joyner added that the path ahead “will not be easy, but it is necessary, just, and will bring a better future.”
Byrd, who leads the oldest of the university’s scores of alumni associations around the world, disagreed.
“Rodney Erickson and any one else who signed off on these sanctions should resign today,” said Byrd’s e-mail to CNN.
While the university removed Paterno’s statue from public view, the university library that bears his name will remain unchanged.
To Patel, the university is trying to get rid of Paterno’s football legacy while conserving his academic legacy. He complained of media coverage that focused solely on the Sandusky scandal and Paterno’s failure to intervene while ignoring how Paterno required his players to succeed in the classroom as well as on the football field.
“Anybody who’s gone to Penn State, that’s something that really is going to bother” them, he said.
Patel, who completed six years at Penn State in 2008 with a graduate degree in aerospace engineering, said he has kept in touch with college friends by phone and e-mail ever since. The main topic is always the same – Penn State football.
“Once you graduate,” he explained, “it ties back to the football program.”
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CNN’s Susan Candiotti and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.