Fight on to victory evermore, but vacate Paterno’s wins

“It’s two different guys: There’s a guy I knew for 40 years and did everything right; then a guy who did a dastardly thing.”

– Bobby Bowden

As my colleague Kevin McGuire wrote on Thursday, “Joe Paterno died on January 22, 2012. The Joe Paterno I thought I knew died today, July 12, 2012.” And, now, on the heels of the Freeh Report being released, comes the devastating fallout.

Bobby Bowden, the legendary former head coach of the Florida State Seminoles and friendly rival of Joe Paterno in the race to replace Bear Bryant as the all-time winningest Division I football coach, seems to now share similar sentiments as us all – that the Joe he knew, painfully, has passed on.

“I had a personal interest in it because my relationship with Joe,” Bowden said Friday in an interview on “Open Mike” with Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi regarding the release of the Freeh Report the day before. “I can’t think of a sadder day than yesterday in regards to college football,” he continued – and those comments have been lamented time and time again.

Bobby Bowden’s comment – or, rather, no comment – may soon be an area the NCAA and/or Penn State itself visits: if Joe Paterno should have his wins vacated.

Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno
Bianchi posed the question to Bowden if Joe Paterno should have his wins stripped. While Bowden did not agree, he did not disagree either: “I’d have to leave that up to the NCAA, I don’t know what approach they are going to take on it. At first, I didn’t think they would take any because of the criminality of the thing. But the thing they’ve always harped on is, ‘Do you have institutional control and are you doing anything that gives you an advantage?”

The question to Bowden is an obvious one. He had 12 victories from the 2006 and 2007 seasons stripped in light of an academic cheating scandal at Florida State that he himself was never implicated in. Paterno now has now been implicated in what amounts to the worst, most saddening scandal in college football history.

Really, vacating wins is meaningless in most cases.

Ohio State vacated all of its wins (12) from the 2010 football season, including its share of the Big Ten championship as well as the Buckeyes’ victory over Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes’ offense: Jim Tressel and company failed to report players receiving improper benefits.

Southern California vacated 14 wins – including the 2004 national championship – from 2004 and 2005. The Trojans’ offense: The NCAA ruled that the University exhibited a lack of institutional control from 2004 to 2009; including impermissible benefits, among other things, to Reggie Bush.

The University of Alabama vacated 21 victories from the 2005, 2006 and 2007 seasons, received three years probation and got a $43,900 fine. The Crimson Tide’s offense: Student-athletes were acquiring textbooks (including non-required textbooks) and materials for girlfriends or other student-athletes – i.e ‘The Textbook Scandal.”

The University of North Carolina vacated 16 victories itself from its 2008 and 2009 seasons, as well as reduced scholarships. The Tar Heels’ offense: improper benefits, academic fraud, unethical dealings between assistant coaches and NFL player agents, and failure to monitor players’ off-field activities.

Among the 75 victories vacated by Florida State, Ohio State, Southern California, Alabama and North Carolina, do you know how many victories the opposing teams receive? Zero. (And that includes the 2004 season’s national championship game in which USC beat Oklahoma.)

In the cases of Florida State, Ohio State, Southern California, Alabama, UNC and beyond – whether self-imposed or not – the vacating of wins has not served much of a grand purpose, especially considering it is not a true “forfeit.”

To answer the question posed to Bobby Bowden, should Joe Paterno should have his wins stripped? Yes, but not by the NCAA.

Penn State was and should continue to be a very proud university, but it is one that now finds itself in a situation of rebuilding a proud image that has been severely damaged. It should start with an eraser.

Not to say that erasing Joe Paterno’s, really, meaningless wins (compared to the egregious crimes perpetrated by Jerry Sandusky and subsequent cover-up by JoePa and company) will do the job. Not at all. It will, however, show the greater public, and more importantly the victims of the crimes committed at Penn State, that the University is in fact larger, stronger and prouder than a football coach – and that it is sorry.

It is sad, really, to ponder. On Oct. 29th, 2011, Joe Paterno and his Nittany Lions football team defeated Illinois, 10-7. With that win, and with much fanfare, he surpassed Eddie Robinson of Grambling for most career victories (409) among Division I coaches. Not only was that win Paterno’s last win, but 85 days later his life would end. As doleful as it was to watch the final 85 days of Joe Paterno’s life, Oct. 29th, 2011 – a day that should have been a memorable one – is where you start; and you don’t stop until you arrive back at Sept. 5th, 1998, and Penn State’s victory of Southern Mississippi.

Taking away the 111 victories would bring Joe Paterno down to 298 wins – behind Bobby Bowden, behind Bear Bryant but, still, forever marred.

This, though, is not about Joe Paterno any longer. That was the problem for far too long, JoePa and football. Penn State now has an opportunity. Not that what has been done can be forgotten, because it can’t. But forgiven? Yes.


Fight on State, Fight on State,
Strike your gait and win,
Victory we predict for thee,
We’re ever true to you, dear old White and Blue.

Onward State, Onward State
Roar Lions roar,
We’ll hit that line, roll up the score,
Fight on to victory evermore,
Fight on, on
On, on, on!

Fight on, on,
Penn State!