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You’ve heard it a million times: A fate worse than death. Welcome to the world of Penn State. And the legacy of the man who built it, Joe Paterno. Technically, the Nittany Lions avoided the death penalty when the NCAA came down on their football program like a ton of bricks for the way Paterno and the school’s top administrators handled the Jerry Sandusky child-sexual abuse scandal.
Their football program did not. Neither did the saintly Paterno’s legacy.
For weeks, I railed against Penn State and Paterno, proclaiming loudly that I did not believe for a minute that JoePa did not know that there was a problem with Sandusky.
In fact, I went so far as to opine to anyone who would listen — the people here in the office don’t really have much choice — that I did not think there was much of anything that happened in State College, let alone on the campus of Penn State, that old Joe did not sign off on.
That is why I had hoped Penn State would handle one thing right in this entire sordid mess and beat the NCAA to the punch by announcing the Nittany Lions would not play football this year.
I just could not stomach the idea of 100,000 people cheering wildly as those players in their familiar blue and white uniforms jogged out of the tunnel.
They will do so again this fall, but minus $60 million in fines imposed by the NCAA, minus the ability to go to a bowl game and minus 40 scholarships.
Is it fair to the players on this team or the coaching staff? No. Sometimes life isn’t fair.
And sometimes death isnot either.
Joe Paterno is not around to defend himself against all the charges leveled against him and his program.
The poobahs at the NCAA were not satisfied with dismantling the program he built over a career that spanned more than half a century.
They decided now was the time to send a message to the rest of big-time college athletics, to remind them of the true purpose of their institutions.
And they stood on a dead man’s grave to do it.
“Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert in bringing the hammer down on Penn State.
I think he even said it with a straight face.
And so Emmert and the NCAA added one final flourish to the heaping helping of misery they delivered to Happy Valley.
They vacated all of Penn State’s victories from the period of 1998, when, according to the Freeh Report, the first incident involving Sandusky became known to Paterno and Penn State brass, through 2011.
Joe Paterno is no longer the winningest coach in NCAA Division I history.
Not even close. He now checks in at No. 12. The NCAA stripped away every victory the Nittany Lions earned during those 14 years as if they never happened. That’s 104 regular season wins and six bowl games. There’s no word on whether they did the same for the losses.
Yes, I realize these are only football games. And they simply cannot be compared to the suffering of those kids for all those years at the slimy hands of Paterno’s one-time defensive coordinator.
I still find it hard to believe that Paterno did not act; that he would put the reputation of his football program and the university that held it so dear, above that of innocent, defenseless kids.
I expected so much more of Paterno, the saint-like archbishop of Happy Valley.
I agree with everything the NCAA did in unloading on Penn State. Except vacating all those wins. It struck me as overkill. And specifically meant to single out Paterno and tarnish a lifetime of good.
Last weekend, they took down the statue of Joe Paterno that used to stand outside Beaver Stadium.
It was left to the NCAA to dismantle his legacy.
It’s still kind of hard to believe how far — and how quickly — Paterno fell. Of course, it’s easy to dump on someone when they’re not here to defend themselves.
Joe Paterno is dead and buried.
But that didn’t stop the NCAA from throwing a little more dirt on his grave.
Philip E. Heron is editor of the Daily Times. Call him at (610) 622-8818. Make sure you check out his blog, The Heron’s Nest, every day at or http://delcoheronsnest.blogspot.com.