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OPINION: Punishment too severe for Paterno, not for everything else

Opinion by Loren Kopff

Almost two weeks after the Pennsylvania State University football program got hit with “death penalty”-like sanctions from the NCAA in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, I’m still in shock. Not because the university was banned from playing in a bowl game for four years, dinged for a monster $60 million fine or had scholarships reduced.

I’m still in shock that the late Joe Paterno, once the NCAA’s Division I winningest coach, is no longer that. Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t defend Paterno remaining silent when he was initially made aware of what that monster had done to those young children. Yes, he had the right to stop the criminal acts of Sandusky a long time ago and I wish he had.

Like most college football fans, I grew up idolizing coaches like Paterno, Barry Switzer of the University of Oklahoma and Bobby Bowden of Florida State University, who now needs 32 wins to become the NCAA’s Division I winningest coach.

But, to vacate the 111 victories from 1998-2011 was not the right punishment. Paterno did not play any ineligible players, either with or without his knowledge. Paterno did not have any players receive gifts, money, bribes, etc. like Reggie Bush of the University of Southern California did not too long ago. Paterno did not have his players cheat during an online exam like Florida State University did in 2006 and 2007. Paterno did not have players receive tattoos in exchange for pieces of memorabilia like Ohio State University did in 2010.

All Paterno was guilty of is not manning up and telling the police that Sandusky had abused children. How does that constitute vacating his victories? In fact, what constitutes the NCAA taking away victories from a coach or a program? Anything and everything? No. I didn’t realize that remaining silent could cost a coach victories.

Now I wonder if every coaching victory is legitimate because there are coaches and programs out there that cheat, but have not been caught yet. There’s that word again-cheat. Paterno did not cheat. He just remained silent. Penn State did not cheat. University administrators just remained silent.

Woody Hayes, who coached Ohio State University from 1951-1978, punched Charlie Bauman of Clemson University during the Gator Bowl in 1978. That would be the last game Hayes coached but he didn’t have any wins vacated for punching a player.

I don’t get it.

Southern Methodist University was placed on the death penalty in 1987 after an investigation revealed, among other things, that players were receiving money. Bobby Collins was the SMU head coach from 1982-1986 before resigning in the wake of the investigation. But all of his 43 victories are still standing and he was never sanctioned by the NCAA. Again, I don’t get it.

A coach remains silent and his victories are vacated but another coach can punch a player or boosters can pay players and all that is done is he gets fired? The NCAA needs to determine what can result in victories being vacated.

My heart goes out to the families and children who were victims of this disgusting crime. At the same time, I’m saddened to see this happen to someone like Paterno, who was adorned by so many fans. I wish he could have done the right thing and I wish he could still be alive to finally speak up and explain himself. I don’t condone his silence but to take away 111 victories was wrong.

Note: Loren Kopff is the Sports Editor for Hews Media Group.

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