Joe Paterno could soon regain his title as the winningest coach in major college football history.
The 112 Penn State victories that the NCAA voided — 111 of them Paterno’s — when it sanctioned Penn State University following the Jerry Sandusky scandal are likely being restored as part of a proposed settlement with the NCAA. Penn State’s board of trustees unanimously approved it, and now the NCAA and a judge will have to accept the settlement.
The settlement is part of a lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania state Sen. Jake Corman. The suit began as a way to force the $60 million fine money the NCAA levied on Penn State to stay within the state of Pennsylvania, but it became a way to give Penn State supporters a place to legally challenge the validity of the sanctions.
Among them, the most controversial, was the loss of Paterno’s wins between 1998, when the first report of abuse against then-assistant coach Sandusky was made, to 2011, when Sandusky was charged with abusing 10 boys, many of them on campus.
Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of abusing the victims and is serving a 30- to 60-year sentence, which means he will probably spend the rest of his life behind bars. The same year, Paterno died at age 85.
“Today is a great victory for everyone who has fought for the truth in the Sandusky tragedy,” the Paterno family said Friday in a statement. “The repeal of the consent decree and the return of the wins to the University and Joe Paterno confirm that the NCAA and the Board of Trustees acted prematurely and irresponsibly in the unprecedented sanctions the NCAA imposed on the University, the players, coaches and the community.”
Paterno, who was fired days after Sandusky was charged, still has many supporters who believe he was wronged by the university’s harsh reaction to the allegations against Sandusky.
But at least some of Sandusky’s victims disagree. Marci Hamilton, a Philadelphia attorney who represents some of them, said it’s another example of protecting the powerful over the vulnerable.
“At least the money is still going to be used for the benefit of survivors in Pennsylvania. Powerful institutions involved in child sex abuse scandals are typically more concerned about their leaders’ pristine reputations (regardless of what they have done) than money. This settlement follows the trend,” she said in an email to CNN.
Howard Janet, lawyer for another victim, said in a statement: “Any effort by Penn State officials or others that implies the NCAA’s action suggests the University had no responsibility for the molestation of adolescent boys by the defensive coordinator of its football team — which often took place in team showers — is ludicrous.”
According to a statement from the Penn State board of trustees, in addition to restoring 112 wins the proposed settlement would dedicate the $60 million to helping victims of child abuse and to preventing such abuse.
Another Philadelphia attorney, Tom Kline, who represented victims including one who was assaulted after administrators were informed of allegations in 2001, said: “Penn State institutionally has demonstrated significant good faith in the past two and half years, and deserved real relief from the overbearing sanctions to which it previously agreed — especially relating to the $60 million fine.
“But, we must not lose sight — in between the chants of ‘restore the wins’ and ‘restore the statute’ pertaining to strong feeling relating to (the late) Joe Paterno, that the remaining issue is the individual accountability of the administrators in charge when Jerry Sandusky was enable to commit his horrible acts on young boys.”
Three administrators, including the former president and former athletic director, have been charged with covering up some of Sandusky’s crimes. Prosecutors allege they knew about at least two incidents reported to the university, but lied about it before a grand jury.
When Penn State hired an independent investigator to look into what happened, the investigator found that Paterno was also part of a coverup, creating a divide among Pennsylvanians and provoking a visceral response from his family and supporters who maintain he was not aware that Sandusky was a pedophile.
That independent report, done by former FBI director Louis Freeh, was what the NCAA relied on when it sanctioned the university.
Dottie Sandusky, Jerry Sandusky’s wife, issued her own statement, again insisting her husband was innocent.
“I am thankful that a small but significant part of this great injustice has been rectified with the restoration of Joe Paterno’s win record. Joe and Penn State did not cover anything up because there was simply nothing to cover up,” she said. “Hopefully, as the media’s false narrative continues to unravel, more people will realize this obvious reality.”
The 112 victories include all of Paterno’s 111 wins at the school in those 14 seasons, plus the team’s last victory of 2011, by which time Paterno had been fired over the Sandusky scandal. Before those wins were vacated, Paterno had amassed 409 victories in 46 seasons at Penn State, the most of any major college head coach.