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Harris: NCAA chooses victims over wins

| Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Penn State head coach Joe Paterno is carried by his team while celebrating his 400th career victory followingthe nittany lions 35-21 win over Northwestern at Beaver Stadium in University Park on November 06, 2010.
(Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review)
Penn State head coach Joe Paterno is carried by his team while celebrating his 400th career victory followingthe nittany lions 35-21 win over Northwestern at Beaver Stadium in University Park on November 06, 2010. (Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review)


The victories were deemed more important than the victims.

It's that simple, really. And that tragic.

Many believed Joe Paterno remained on the job too long. That issue isn't up for debate after the NCAA dropped a megaton bomb on Penn State on Monday.

Paterno's stint as the all-time winningest coach in college football has ended, silenced as so much trivial pursuit when stacked against the lives destroyed by Jerry Sandusky, Paterno's former right-hand man.

“The whole situation is incredibly tragic,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops told reporters during the first day of Big 12 Conference media day activities. “I don't know all the facts. I'm not one to judge. But in every way possible, children should always be protected by adults.''

No amount of victories is worth the moral dilemma that Paterno wrestled with since he first learned about Sandusky's dark side:

“Do I blow the whistle on Jerry, because it's the right thing to do? Do I keep it hush-hush for the good of the program and my own personal gain?''

Paterno chose wrong. That's why 111 of Paterno's victories from 1998-2011 he believed were solidifying his legacy were erased by the NCAA, which chose victims over victories.

Those who supported the football coach to the bitter end should consider the hypocrisy of the message Paterno regularly delivered to his players.

While telling Nittany Lions players to conduct their lives in a respectable manner, Paterno secretly supported a former co-worker whose actions were indefensible.

What happened at Penn State couldn't happen anywhere else. Right?

“I don't think things have been the same since it happened,'' TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “Obviously, it's tragic on a lot of levels. But I'm more interested in how are we going to find an answer to the problem. Because that problem is not just at Penn State. That's a world problem.''

Too many people at Penn State in positions of power wielded their power like a club while looking the other way regarding Sandusky. With all due respect to Patterson, that's an institutional control problem.

No more excuses. That's what makes the NCAA stance against Penn State so revolutionary ... and necessary. Someone finally told Paterno no.

People are beginning to see the light. It once seemed as though Paterno, who did so much good for Penn State, could do no wrong. And if he did, someone was always there to defend him.

However, this abomination couldn't be overlooked, covered up, or ignored, no matter the financial cost. The human cost was far greater.

“I think perhaps the lesson that will be taken away from it is that things can get pretty far afield when there are people running the show that don't ever get frank feedback and don't ever have anybody push back against them in terms of re-centering their decision processes,'' Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.

Regardless of the stature of the coach or the program, money and winning at all costs must take a backseat to doing the right thing.

Years later, Penn State is finally doing the right thing.

It may not help Sandusky's victims sleep easier at night, but at least now they know they haven't been forgotten.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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