On the morning of Nov. 5, Paterno’s Nittany Lions were undefeated in the Big Ten and ranked No. 16 in the country, and the 84-year-old Hall of Famer was renowned as the winningest coach in Division I football, a leader who preached and practiced “Success with Honor.” Then came the staggering revelations: the indictment of longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky for allegedly sexually assaulting eight boys over a 15-year span, perjury charges against two high-ranking school administrators – and a grand jury report that suggested Paterno knew of accusations against Sandusky and did not do enough to pursue them.
Within four days, Penn State’s board of trustees had done the once-unthinkable, firing Paterno after 46 seasons as head coach.
There were 214 ballots submitted from U.S. news organizations that make up the AP’s membership.
The Penn State saga received 172 first-place votes. It was also voted the No. 6 news story for 2011 in the AP’s annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors. The No. 2 sports story – labor strife in the NFL and NBA – had 15 first-place votes.
The turmoil that at times seemed to rock college sports on a weekly basis this year was evident in the voting beyond the Penn State selection.
Three more of the top 10 stories involved upheaval in the NCAA: conference realignment (No. 4); the Ohio State infractions that cost Jim Tressel his job (No. 6); and more sex abuse accusations, these involving Syracuse basketball assistant coach Bernie Fine (No. 9).