November 14, 2011
When the newly expanded Big Ten decided to append the names of its greatest "legends and leaders" to 18 new postseason trophies last year, no name took higher billing than Joe Paterno's: In fact, the Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy — presented each December to the winner of the newly created Big Ten Championship Game — made JoePa the only active coach or player so honored, emblazoning his name alongside the only other coach in the history of the sport who oversaw as many games, Amos "Alonzo" Stagg.
The Big Ten removed former Penn State coach Joe Paterno's name from its new championship trophy on Monday.
The move was made because of the child sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the Penn State program, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said.
"We believe that it would be inappropriate to keep Joe Paterno's name on the trophy at this time," Delany said. "The trophy and its namesake are intended to be celebratory and aspirational, not controversial. We believe that it's important to keep the focus on the players and the teams that will be competing in the inaugural championship game."
The trophy will now be known as simply the Stagg Championship Trophy, after the long-tenured legend who resided over University of Chicago football for 41 years, from 1892 to 1932. Not long after, Chicago withdrew from the Big Ten after dropping football altogether as an "infernal nuisance" to the university's educational mission. It didn't field a team again until 1969, on a non-scholarship level.
As indignities go, the inscription on a nascent piece of hardware is probably the least of what Paterno has lost over the last week, since the Pennsylvania Attorney General detailed sexual abuse charges against his longtime defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky — once a highly respected figure in State College in his own right — is facing 25 felony counts of deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, unlawful contact with a minor, endangering the welfare of a child and indecent assault against at least eight victims over more than a decade. Reports last week suggested that number may now be as high as 20 victims and growing as the publicity of the case generates new accusations.
On at least two occasions — once in 1998, when Sandusky was the subject of an investigation involving the university police department and again in 2002, when Paterno was informed directly by a graduate assistant who said he saw Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in a locker room shower — Paterno and other administrators had reason to at least suspect Sandusky was engaging in violent criminal behavior on Penn State's campus. Still, Paterno only passed the 2002 charge up the chain to then-athletic director Tim Curley, and by all accounts did not follow up with his boss or former colleague.
Sandusky was neither disciplined nor reported to authorities, and (thanks to his "emeritus" status following his retirement in 1999) continued to maintain an office in the football building and enjoy access to the locker room and other campus facilities as recently as last month, even after Paterno and other Penn State officials had been called to testify before a grand jury on Sandusky's alleged crimes. Curley and another administrator have stepped down in the wake of indictments for perjury and failure to report; Paterno and university president Graham Spanier were both relieved of their duties last week. The graduate assistant who initially informed Paterno, former Nittany Lion quarterback and current wide receivers coach Mike McQueary, is on administrative leave and will almost certainly never coach at Penn State again, if he coaches anywhere.
The university's board of trustees has appointed a special committee to investigate the university's response, as has the U.S. Department of Education. Paterno is not facing criminal charges but has retained a lawyer in anticipation of possible civil suits.
Obviously, the fate of a trophy that has yet to be awarded for the first time is the last thing on his mind. But it is one more piece of a rapidly disintegrating legacy by the wayside.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.