Cheater, Cheater, Semester Repeater

What the Gov. 1310 cheating scandal means for the world of Crimson Sports. Cartoon, “Cheetah and the Ad Board,” by Miranda Shugars.

Last week I wrote an article that was an optimistic prognosis of the upcoming 2012-13 sports season at Harvard. Much of my reasoning was based on the Crimson’s phenomenal and historic 2011-12 season, which included Ivy League titles for both football and men’s basketball, in addition to men’s basketball competing in the NCAA tournament for the first time in over 60 years. However, recent developments in the Gov. 1310 (“Intro to Congress”) cheating scandal—involving an estimated 125 students suspected of cheating on a take-home final exam—shed a darker light on not only this year’s athletic season but also the new academic year as a whole.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are at least vaguely aware of the cheating scandal, believed to be the largest incident the university has dealt with in recent history. Publications from Harvard’s student daily The Crimson to widespread magazines such as Sports Illustrated have reported on the incident, with Sports Illustrated being the first to report that Kyle Casey ’13, co-captain of the men’s basketball team, would be withdrawing from the college due to the investigation of the scandal and the possibility of facing disciplinary action. With new reports of members of several varsity sports teams (including basketball, football and baseball) being accused of cheating, team lineups for this year are in disarray.

Because the accused have the option to enroll or withdraw this semester, many, especially varsity athletes, face a dilemma. If an athlete were to enroll in the semester to fight the allegations only to ultimately be found guilty and forced to withdraw, that athlete will have become ineligible for that year, wasting an already limited number of total NCAA eligible years. Should an accused athlete withdraw from the college (and thus from the season), they will still be able to use their eligibility for next year’s season. Due to the high cost of staying enrolled, it would not be surprising if many (or all) of the accused athletes decide to withdraw. As such, several varsity sports teams will be at a disadvantage this year.

To bluntly summarize: Harvard sports will suffer this season. This is true on two fronts. First, teams with a significant number of withdrawn players will not be able to play at their top level, much less compete against other teams that are at full strength. It would be advisable to be prepared for more losses and disappointments than occurred last year. Harvard by no means stands out as a school with a particularly strong or consistently successful athletics program, which means that damaged rosters will be a loss the Crimson cannot afford. Second, the reputation of varsity athletics at Harvard is damaged. At a school that fosters the best and brightest minds, athletes are often viewed with suspicion; was the athlete a good student who happened to be a talented linebacker or someone who was simply recruited for his or her athletic ability? Because athletes have been the most visible and discussed participants in the cheating scandal, the scandal only adds fuel to the fire. Hurting athletics even more is the fact that the administration is conducting an incredibly thorough investigation, one that may extend into November. This puts athletes in limbo, making it increasingly difficult to determine the structure of many teams.

Despite the damage this investigative process may do to varsity athletics, it is the right course of action. With 125 suspects, there is no way this scandal can be handled both fairly and quickly. The scale of the issue means that the administration must carefully consider each case so that those truly guilty of cheating are punished accordingly and that those who are innocent are acquitted. In addition, this scandal should be handled thoroughly so that students, faculty, and administrators are able to learn from this moment and use it to prevent future cheating incidents of this magnitude. A successful athletic program should not come at the price of a school’s integrity.

However, this does not mean athletes or Harvard’s athletic program in general should be vilified. While many of the cheaters are believed to be athletes, many are also unaffiliated with varsity sports. Athletes have simply made for the most intriguing topic of discussion regarding the overall scandal. While the primary victims of this scandal are the academically honest student majority whose integrity is insulted by this event, one must also consider the vast majority of varsity athletes who did not cheat. It is incredibly unfair that the remaining members of the affected teams must make up for lost talent on such short notice and amid so much drama. Thus, fans of the Crimson should support and cheer on their teams even more this year to counter damaged morale. Though it is important to meticulously investigate the cheating scandal, it is also important to learn and move on from it. This semester should not be about the cheating scandal but rather about how we overcame it and became a better student body.

Michael Altman ’14 (maltman@college) supports a fair trial system.