By: Connor Lenahan
Let me open by saying the following: It is impossible for me to be 100% without bias when discussing Penn State in any matter, not just what I plan to address in part of this article. I openly admit to this. I have been a fan of the Nittany Lions football team since I first went to a game in 2006. I have gone to at least one game a year since. I am unquestionably a more dedicated fan to Penn State football than any pro sports team. I am also, however, willing to listen to reason and logic in any and all situation. This goes beyond football and Penn State. I listen to facts over all. If evidence backs up actions then I follow said evidence. This is a lengthly disclaimer, but a necessary one.
As I was poking about the internet this evening I found an article on Deadpan that reported that the NCAA is in talks to restore the as-of-now vacated victories for former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno between the years 1998 and 2011. These wins were terminated due to the highly-covered, terrible Jerry Sandusky case. Jerry Sandusky is and was an evil man who deserves to spend the remainder of his life in jail. He is not the only person without blame. Many others, including Paterno himself, could have done more and did not. This is a situation with many questions left unanswered after Paterno’s passing three years ago. But one part of this case remains largely clear: The NCAA, in punishing Penn State, overstepped its boundaries to extreme degrees. Penn State was hit with some of the most severe penalties in the sport’s history. Across the board the penalties were questioned. This was because of a simple question:
What did this have to do with the 2011 Penn State Nittany Lions and beyond?
The cases being investigated were in the past to the point that no player on the team at the time of the penalties overlapped with the cases. Only the coaching staff. Yet the NCAA enacted it’s authority, claiming a loss of institutional control. This meant Penn State was banned from bowl games (until 2014 brought a reversal), lost scholarships (reversed in 2013), vacated Paterno’s wins (if a trend is to be followed, 2015), and penalized the school $60 million dollars to be used to protect children from cases similar to Sandusky’s.
You could look around on the internet all night – I have in the past – and find independent sources (especially Deadspin) that find Penn State’s penalties to be to harsh and overstepping of authority on the side of the NCAA. My axe to grind is not with the money, or the scholarships, or the bowl ban. Money comes and goes. Scholarships have been back for over a year now. Penn State won their bowl game this year. No, instead I am again brought face to face with one of the most annoying trends not just in college sports, but sports in general: Revisionist history.
I mentioned above that I have been attending Penn State games since I was a sixth grader. The NCAA would lead you to believe that the wins that occurred in those seasons never happened. Well, they did. I was there. I saw them with my own two eyes. Nothing can change what has happened in the world, as much as the NCAA would like to believe the contrary.
Joe Paterno is the winningest coach in college football history as he won more games than anyone else with his 409th victory, the record breaker, coming against Northwestern at home – a game my parents attended in person. The NCAA ignores that this happened. It elects not to recognize it as a part of the penalty. That’s how simple this is. But it isn’t just the Penn State team. No, this happens all around with the NCAA.
Derrick Rose brought the Memphis Tigers to the National Championship in the spring of 2008. He did this while bringing the team to a record of 38-2. He is one crazy Mario Chalmers three away from being the reigning national champion before getting picked #1 by the Chicago Bulls.
See that shot? That’s what cost Memphis a national title. But in the eyes of the NCAA Memphis should never have made the tournament. Why? Because in their eyes Memphis finished 0-1. Due to an investigation – after the fact, mind you – found Derrick Rose to be ineligible the NCAA vacated all wins that year for John Calipari’s Tigers team. Yet, look at that video above. Memphis is right there in the National Championship. Derrick Rose is on the court. That happened. Nothing is going to change that. Here’s a video of Memphis winning the game to get to that National Championship, Try and try they might, but it still happened.
That’s Reggie Bush holding his Heisman trophy. He won it in 2006. Yet if you look at an official list of winners of the award the 2006 entry reads “Vacant.” That’s because the Heisman Trophy Trust took away Bush’s trophy years after the fact due to, you guessed it, an NCAA investigation found that Bush should have been ineligible. Technically yes this isn’t the NCAA playing revisionist history, but that’s like saying the gun didn’t kill the man, the bullet did. The NCAA set this in motion. But I can go on YouTube and immediately pull up clips of Bush playing that season.
Plus, you know, the picture of him at the award ceremony, holding the trophy he won.
This all ties into my problem with the NCAA. We cannot change history. If we could we all would change something. I could take away more than a few of my broken bones with one changed step. But what has happened has happened. Nothing can change that. That’s just how life works. But the NCAA thinks it’s different.
The NCAA shows its power by trying to police players that do not uphold their rules. But here’s the problem – if you don’t catch them you can’t fix it. Derrick Rose and Reggie Bush should have been ineligible by NCAA rules – this designation I do not argue. But just because you missed it when it was happening does not then grant you the ability to go and erase your own history when you missed something. That’s what the NCAA does here. The logic is “Oh, Rose shouldn’t have been able to play, so those games don’t count.” But they happened. We saw them. We have footage. I can pull up box scores and ESPN articles about those wins. That’s how it works.
Even if they decide to go and change their past, what’s the point? What does it matter that they say Memphis didn’t win any games that year? Every Memphis fan alive, along with all players and staff, and frankly all fans of college basketball would say the same. Reggie Bush won that Heisman because he literally won that Heisman.
We don’t get to change things just because we didn’t like the outcome. That’s a harsh truth of reality. But it is reality. The decision to do otherwise is crazy. Especially when the governing body for all of collegiate sports is the one doing it.
It doesn’t mean we have to be happy about what happened. Barry Bonds, by all accounts, probably took steroids. He’s never failed a test, and a jury didn’t convict him, but this is as wide held a belief as “The Sun is Yellow.” He hit more home runs than anyone else. Yes we can argue about if these were accomplished with legitimacy, but we can’t argue that they were accomplished.
We don’t get to play actual revisionist history. That’s not how life works. So the news Paterno will possibly get his wins back is a positive one. It’s an adult move. Again, you do not have to like what happened, but you need to accept it. No matter what it is.
Because really, the past is the past. The only thing we can ever hope for is to get better in the future. Then we won’t have to be concerned with trying to change the past and failing.