GREENSBORO, N.C. — For two years Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer proudly displayed in his office the Joseph V. Paterno Award, a discontinued coach of the year honor given to someone who best exemplified the former Penn State coach’s success on and off the field.
But after last week’s Freeh Report detailed how Paterno and other Penn State administrators concealed former coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children for more than a decade to avoid bad publicity, Beamer put the award into storage.
“I thought it was the proper thing to do,” he said.
ACC coaches sounded off Monday after the NCAA levied unprecedented penalties against the Penn State football program, sanctions just short of the “death penalty” that came in response to details from the Freeh Report.
Penn State was fined $60 million, approximately equivalent to one year’s gross revenues for the football program, over a five-year period that will go into an endowment for programs that prevent child sexual abuse or assist its victims.
Additionally, it faces a four-year postseason football ban, a vacation of all wins since 1998 (losing 111 victories drops Paterno from first to 12th on the all-time Division I wins list) and scholarship reductions that will keep the Nittany Lions playing with 65 grants-in-aid out of a maximum 85 from 2014-15 through the end of the 2017-18 season.
“They made them a I-AA school,” N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien said, referring to the Football Championship Subdivision level’s limit of 63 full scholarships.
Boston College coach Frank Spaziani, a former Penn State player for Paterno who would get his coaching start as a graduate assistant there in 1969, said he had many opinions about the punishment but chose not to get into them Monday.
“That is a tragic situation on many, many, many levels,” he said. “Foremost and not least are the victims, which are pushed in the back of this whole scenario. They should be kept in the forefront and the severity of this crime should be what we’re talking about.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney thinks Penn State will be recovering from this punishment for much longer than the scholarship reductions last.
“It says four years, but it’s really going to probably be 10 years, having a lot of walk-ons and so forth,” Swinney said. “It’s going to be a long process, but at the end of the day, when you don’t do what’s right, there’s consequences.
“It’s just a shame, because a lot of times when the consequences are rendered, a lot of people who have done nothing wrong suffer.”
Beamer has a unique perspective on that. One year into his coaching tenure at Virginia Tech, the program was hit with NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations committed by his predecessor Bill Dooley.
The Hokies’ penalties then pale in comparison to Penn State’s now — they were docked 10 scholarships a year from what was then a maximum of 95 for two seasons from 1988-90 — but Beamer, who didn’t turn the corner at Tech until his seventh season there in 1993, knows how much those kind of limits can set a program back.
“I think that’s the most severe punishment you can hand out,” Beamer said, adding that it affects the team years down the line, “when those guys could be juniors and seniors and ready to play for you, and you didn’t recruit them and you don’t have them.”
The postseason ban is another deterrent in recruiting, especially when it’s as long as four years, which could span a player’s entire college eligibility.
“Because most kids, when you walk in there, they want to play in a championship game and they want to play in a bowl game,” Beamer said.
The NCAA also allowed current or incoming players on Penn State’s roster to transfer and compete immediately, without having to sit out one year even if it is to a school at the same level.
ACC coaches spoke obliquely about whether or not they’ll pursue players on the Nittany Lions’ roster, although it stands to figure many of them will.
“If you have available scholarships and you have a need and they have someone that’ll fit that need, you’d be crazy not to,” O’Brien said.
It could be a crippling blow to the program, although O’Brien thinks the Nittany Lions will persevere.
“I don’t think you can cripple a Penn State because of the brand and who and what they were and what they’ve accomplished,” he said. “You can cripple an SMU. You can cripple somebody that’s never won a national championship, doesn’t have that type of brand name that they have.
“Will it hurt them? Yeah. Will it kill them? I don’t think so.”
As for Paterno, who died of lung cancer in January, his legacy is forever stained. Nevertheless, Beamer, who admired Paterno in the profession, still believes the coaching giant would have liked to have acted differently in the face of the Sandusky allegations many years ago.
“When I think about Joe, he made a statement that he wished he would have done more,” Beamer said. “And I take him at his word.”