So did they win those games, or didn’t they?

Photo by Melissa Dale from Meadville, USA

First, I’d like to know whether this Penn State thing is over yet. Oh, I know it will never be over in terms of what happened to the victims of that pervert coach. May God ease their pain. I just want to know whether, now that he has been duly convicted, the bulletins will stop coming on my iPhone, and interrupting me as though war had been declared, as though what happens or doesn’t happen to a college football program in a whole other part of the country from me were of earth-shattering importance. Which it isn’t. I think it reached the height of absurdity on Saturday (or was it Sunday?) when I was awakened (I like to sleep late on weekends) by bulletins telling me that this Joe Paterno person’s statue was being taken down. Really. A statue.

As of this moment, there are four recent bulletins still available on my phone from The New York Times reaching back nine days. Two of them are about Penn State (one is about the Colorado shootings, the other about the new Yahoo CEO). I still have five WLTX bulletins, going back about two days (WLTX has a low “bulletin” threshold) . Two are about Penn State, one of them being about said statue. Another is also about college football, telling me that former Gamecock coach Jim Carlen has died. The other two are actually about things that people in the community might need to know about urgently — the standoff in Five Points on Saturday.

Now, another question…

The most recent bulletins to pester me had to do with this morning’s decision by the NCAA as to how it would punish Penn State, in the wake of last week’s finding of a long-term coverup.

First, what the NCAA did not do: It did not close down the football program. If you want to say the program was rotten because of the cover-up, it seems that would be a logical thing to do. But they didn’t. Whatever.

But what grabbed my attention was among the steps taken against the program was that “all victories from 1998-2011 have been vacated,” to which I went, “Huh?”

Excuse me: Did those players win those games or didn’t they? If they won them, they won them. If they didn’t win them, they didn’t win them. Period.

I Tweeted that out early today, and one reader immediately responded to agree with me. But others started arguing. Beth Padgett, editorial page editor of The Greenville News, explained, “Games won Wins don’t count,” which may make sense to football fans, but not to me. I replied, “You’ve lost me. Probably because I’m not fan, don’t understand the mystique. Facts are facts. Wins are wins. Not that I care…”

Garrett Epps responded to my assertion that “they either WON those football games or DIDN’T, regardless of the unrelated, horrible things some coach did,” with a one-word question: “unrelated?”

Absolutely, said I. Over here, some coach did horrible things. Over there, some kids won some games. One fact is not dependent upon to the other. He responded, “Glad we cleared that up. Sanduskywas NOT defensive coordinator for a number of years? i was confused. Thought he was.”

OK, so… is the theory that without this guy, they wouldn’t have won the games? We know that? How? All we know is what happened.

And to me, whether some kids won some games they played in is a fact that has no moral content whatsoever, good or bad. I could not care less who won those games. But I do know absurdity when I see it. And saying they didn’t win games they did win, for whatever purpose, is an absurd lie. We don’t get to say that the North lost the Civil War because (in South Carolina’s estimation, anyway), William Tecumseh Sherman was a terrorist, and Ullyses S. Grant was a drunk. They either won or they didn’t. (And they did. So, you know, time to take down that flag, boys.)

Saying Penn State didn’t win games it did win is like the NCAA deciding to “punish” the program by declaring the players took the field in yellow uniforms instead of blue. It’s just not true.

I get a clue as to the thinking behind this denial of reality from this WashPost Tweet, “Joe Paterno is no longer the winningest football coach in college football history.”

OK, so, from what little I know about college football, I’m guessing that statement would really hurt Paterno where he lives. If, you know, he lived. But he’s dead. You can’t do anything to hurt him. And as an attempt to do so, this denial of what happened is pretty lame.

I mean, as long as we’re changing history, why not wave the same magic wand and declare that all those kids were not abused by Sandusky? I’ll tell you why not: Because it would be a cruel mockery. Of course they were abused, and that pain will never go away. And it seems extremely unlikely that it would be assuaged in any way by pretending that Paterno’s team didn’t win those games.

20 thoughts on “So did they win those games, or didn’t they?

  1. bud

    The Penn State uniforms bare a striking resemblence to the US Olympic team uniforms.

    This whole very sad and disturbuing story supports a long-term pet peeve of mine – Never name something, dedicate something or memorialize someone who is still alive. Better yet wait 5 or 10 years after they die. It’s a shame the folks at Penn State are stuck with about a gazillion things named after Joe Paterno. Then again, the André Bauer Freeway does have a nice ring to it.

  2. palmettosc

    I think that it certainly helps that the man isn’t allowed to have his name go down in history for the one record he was willing to do anything (or in this case not do anything) to attain.

  3. Bryan Caskey

    This post seems to be basking in the fact that you don’t follow college football at all. But ok, I’ll bite.

    If you followed college football (which you don’t) you would understand the significance of stripping wins from Penn State. It’s also a tool the NCAA uses quite frequently. A large reason for the coverup of the sexual abuse was to allow Joe Paterno to break the all-time wins record, which is pretty much his (and the University’s) greatest achievement in college football.

    Joe Paterno’s silence in the face of this monstrous conduct helped to ensure that additional children were raped. He (and the University) kept the rape covered up so he (and the University) could bask in the glory of having more wins than any other coach in college football.

    Joe Paterno helped cover up rape so he could climb the all-time wins list. The University was complicit in that.

    That’s why the NCAA took his wins away.

    You’re probably going to say “Who cares about stupid college football wins”, but clearly Joe Paterno and Penn State cared more about the wins, the glory and the ensuing money that was rolling in from the football program’s success.

    The penalty of stripping the wins wasn’t silly, it was fitting.

    And no it doesn’t punish the players. They aren’t hanging their hats on a win over Indiana from seven years ago. Stripping the wins was specifically to punish Paterno (posthumously of course)and Penn State to show everyone that it is wrong to elevate winning above reporting rape. However, stripping wins is usually a little silly. In this case, it isn’t.

    In any event, college football ain’t your strong suit Brad. That’s ok, we can’t all be perfect.

    I’ll leave you with a question:

    Who won the game between Penn State and Ohio State in 2010?

    Both teams were required to vacate that season.

  4. Brad

    Well apparently it hit Paterno’s family where THEY live, anyway. Get a load of this more recent Tweet from the WashPost: “Paterno’s family: NCAA penalties ‘defame the legacy’ of Paterno

    Really? You’re kidding, folks… You mean, you think he’s got a LEGACY still? I mean, they just hustled his statue away from the stadium with a blanket over its head, like a mobster on the way to his arraignment. Did you think this would all be forgotten, and someday he would be remembered as a football god, except for the NCAA doing this?

    This is a clue to a way of thinking that is alien to me. Sports fans keep responding to me on Twitter, explaining that this is something the NCAA does, and they expected it.

    Well, I wouldn’t know. I would be unaware of it if my iPhone hadn’t bugged me about it, and to me, the “vacating wins” part just struck me as the height of absurdity…

  5. bud

    I agree there may be some merit in vacating the wins. It’s a tough call but here’s why. Basically Penn State cheated. Obviously small violations should not rise to the level of forfieting wins. But serious cheating gives a program an undeserved edge on the gridiron that simply cannot be tolerate. Let’s use an obvious example. What if Penn State had drugged the other teams Gatoraid Not enough to cause a serious illness but just enough to make them run a bit slower or have less strength. Wouldn’t it make sense to lose those wins?

    The problem here is that as Brad points out we don’t know what Penn State would have done if Paterno and the others had acted swiftly to deal with Sandusky. Perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered at all. Perhaps Penn State would have lost a bit of it’s recruiting luster and not won all those games. We’ll never know.

    I suppose what I’d do is allow the wins to remain on the record but keep the other penalties in place. The preponderance of the evidence suggests to me that Penn State would not have suffered a huge blow on the field had Paterno done the right thing. But this should serve as an example that this type of cover up should not be tolerated.

    All you Catholic Bishops and Cardinals listen up. You got off easy compared to Penn State. A few days in confessional would do them some good. Better yet, a few years in the pokey.

  6. Brad

    Actually, Bud, the confessional was the church’s problem. (Or at least, being the kind of institution that has the confessional was.) When you confess your sins, you receive absolution, and that’s it and you move on. That just was not the proper way to respond to child sexual abuse.

    And yeah, folks, I’m a total ignoramus when it comes to the whole culture of college football. I. Do. Not. Get. It.

    So you have to take my comments as those of an alien who’s just landed on the planet, and his intergallactic communicator suddenly lights up with these bulletins. He (or she or perhaps it) would be puzzled, and so am I. It is not logical, and all us Vulcans are confused.

  7. Brad

    And I don’t see how this scares churchmen implicated in coverups. Saying Penn State didn’t win these games they won would be like, I don’t know… telling a priest, “Hey, you know that AWESOME series of homilies you gave back in October ’08? Well, now, you didn’t really preach those sermons.”

    No, wait: Here’s how the NCAA would punish a bishop who covered up sex abuse: By vacating all of Notre Dame’s and Georgetown’s wins during the relevant period.

    Sounds silly, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. And this is a deadly serious subject, which deserves something other than a silly response.

  8. bud

    Bryan, I agree that Brad knows nothing about college football which is kind of sad. But I’m not sure the “most wins” thing should come in to play (I really am conflicted). To me the reason to vacte the wins would be come down to whether the cover-up gave them an advantage on the field vs coming clean from the start. Had they come clean Paterno would have likely stayed on with a new assistant to replace Sandusky. In that event I don’t think much long term damage would have been done to the program or Paterno’s status. But honesly I’m not sure. It’s a tough call but I won’t lose a whole lot of sleep either way. If this sends a message that covering up a serious crime will not be tolerated then perhaps its a good thing regardless of the angle of gaining an advantage.

  9. palmettosc

    Looking through the eyes of those effected (JoePa and the University), taking the wins from Penn State and JoePa would be the equivolent of the Catholic church excommunicating the Pope and disbanding the Vatican.

  10. Bryan Caskey

    Poor analogy. The equivalent of what the NCAA did to Penn State if done to a church?

    Penn State was fined $60 Million Dollars, which happens to be the amount the football program brings in annually. (The church would be fined the annual amount the church brings in, tithes and all.)

    Penn State cannot go to a bowl game for four years. (The Church cannot have any weddings, funerals, Christmas plays, or any other extras that the church usually does for four years.)

    Penn State loses dozens of scholarships for years. (The Church staff, ministers, all the people who make the services run…are reduced by about a third for years.)

    Penn State’s conference will not pay out it’s share for four years, which is about $13 Million. (The Catholic church, the parish, the diocese, whatever, holds back all funding for four years.)

    Penn State athletes will be allowed to immediately transfer to another school (and they will), rather than having to sit out the ordinary one year. (The church will allow any ministers, staff or other innocent parties to move to another church, and they’re moving expenses will be paid for.)

    Penn State on Probation for five years. This means if they do something again within the five year period, they can get shut down very easily. (The Church possibly has it’s charter or whatever revoked).

    Sound like a church you want to continue going to? This is going to have an ENORMOUS impact on Penn State from an economic point of view, and their football team will probably never been good during your lifetime.

    The win stripping doesn’t translate to the Catholic church. It’s a sports record. That’s why you don’t understand it.

    Newsflash, Brad: It’s not silly to those who are being punished.

  11. Brad

    A better way to put it would be that the church’s tax-exempt status would be revoked for the relevant period. I guess. Bryan’s sort of reaching in that direction. But palmettosc is a bit off saying it’s like “the equivolent of the Catholic church excommunicating the Pope and disbanding the Vatican.” No, THAT would be shutting down the football program. Which would make some sense.

    And Bryan, I think the monetary penalties make sense with Penn State, since college football is such a big business. The only part that didn’t make sense to ME was “vacating” the wins.

    But I fully get that it’s not silly to those punished. Which I think I tried to say several times above. As I indicated, mine is the viewpoint of the alien trying to make logical sense out of something (college football) that doesn’t lend itself to that.

  12. Brad

    Unfortunately, kc’s link is not clickable (for me, anyway), due to a WordPress glitch, which prevents the first few words of a comment from working as HTML. (It won’t even let me highlight and copy the text, except from within the dashboard.)

    Here’s the link. And here’s an excerpt from it:

    “…The NCAA did provide for transfers without penalty today. But I’m still queasy about how it went about grabbing the moral high ground. The $60 million fine Penn State will pay is supposed to go to “an endowment for external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims.” That sounds unassailable—except why is the NCAA setting up such an endowment? Shouldn’t this be part of the settlement the university will surely have to reach with Sandusky’s victims? I’m not sure what the NCAA is doing in preempting that process. It makes more sense for a judge overseeing all this litigation to approve one global resolution, after the parties have hammered it out. I’m all for setting aside money for prevention along with compensation. But I don’t see why the governing body of college sports should butt in to the judicial system here…”

    “I also don’t quite understand the idea of “vacating” all of those wins going back to 1998. Maybe the problem is that vacate is such an odd word here. But I’m also not sure what I think about penalizing all the players and coaches who made those victories happen. It just doesn’t seem like the right way to rectify the wrongs….”

  13. Steven Davis II

    People upset with Penn State not getting the death penalty don’t realize that this is like being told that they’ve got a terminal disease and won’t get any treatment and might die a long lingering death vs. being told the’ll be shot at dawn. It’s going to take decades for Penn State to overcome this, and that multi-millions of dollars in reduced revenue.

  14. Scout

    I think the analogous thing for the Catholic church might simply be the negative publicity the church receives when the truth is known. What is the motive of the church for covering it up – is it to protect the church’s reputation and potential for continued good work? (I’m guessing, I’m really not sure) But if so, then that is ruined for the priest and church involved when the truth comes out, right? Wouldn’t all the good work a priest had done, sermons preached etc. be called into question when it was learned that he was so morally adrift as to be able to commit such heinous acts. Even though he might have actually done good (which will not have changed, just like the games which remain not actually lost), all his past works (even the truly good ones) will be forever tainted, called into question when it becomes public – could that be like vacating wins?? maybe. Unlike the Paterno case, the negative publicity is intrinsically punishing to all the priest has ever done, since his job description involves a certain expectation of moral rectitude. Yet Paterno’s immoral behavior is not intrinsically related to his wins, so the NCAA had to artificially manipulate the situation to exact punishment.

    If Bryan is right, that protecting the program in order to potentially achieve the win record was the motivation, which seems reasonable, then it does seem a fitting punishment – it would only bother me if it also penalized the players and other underling coaches who worked for their wins as well. I gotta believe it bothers them to have the record of their achievement discarded when they didn’t do anything wrong.

    I don’t know though. I’m just thinking out loud.

  15. Tim

    I think the better analogy would be that the Vatican fined the Diocese and declared all marriages, baptisms, and last rites were invalid during that period. This would be a clear signal to all other Diocese to get their houses in order. But we all know College Football is a much more critical component of our nation’s Civil Religion.

  16. Greg

    Penalty? They should make the Penn State players and coaches all wear the USA Olympic uniform. (Sorry; I just thought we needed to lighten up a bit.)

  17. Joanne

    First, Paterno’s family needs to just stop with the statements. I’m sure they are hurting and quite conflicted about their loyalty to their husband, father, grandparent, but the statements aren’t helping.

    Second, what’s interesting about vacating wins is that the teams they played in those years don’t get wins.

    As for an analogy of who JoPa is in this debacle, one of the guys on the radio used the analogy of Nixon and Watergate. Nixon didn’t break into Dem HQ but knew about it.

  18. bud

    Greg, they kinda are wearing the Olympic uniform. Just put them side by side, the color scheme is very similar.

    Joanne is 100% correct, the Paterno family is not helping there cause.


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