Harvard's Cheating Scandal Is Now an Athletics Scandal

Image Credit: Yzukerman via Flickr

The report that Harvard basketball’s co-captain will miss this season after being implicated in the cheating scandal affecting 125 students seems like it will drive the conversation on general ethical standards toward one about academic standards for athletes. Sports Illustrated reports Tuesday that Harvard’s Kyle Casey will withdraw, missing the entire season, so that he might retain a year of eligibility. The team’s other co-captain is under investigation for the same scandal, as are several football players, the Globe reports.

Just as BU hockey’s sexual assault scandal has also led to investigations of the players’ academic performance, so too, we imagine will Harvard have to take another look at how it integrates athletes into its academics. In both cases, the issue of athletes’ academic performance is tangential to the main issue: at BU, that’s sexual assault, and at Harvard, it’s ethical integrity among the student body at large. Harvard’s cheating investigation involves plenty of non-athlete students too, and the conversation has so far focused on them.

The Ivy League does more than many to ensure its athletes meet certain basic academic requirements. But at a school with big name sports teams and big name academics, there’s always tension about the recruitment process. Plus, practice and game schedules often demand an overwhelming amount of an athlete’s time. A lot of the students in the class where the cheating was alleged, Introduction to Congress, thought they were taking an easy course, one that wouldn’t give them much trouble and would, we assume, leave them free to pursue other activities, be they other, more rigorous classes, or becoming the basketball team’s lead returning scorer and rebounder. (Or both.) The course wasn’t as easy as advertised, and we suspect (as do others) that drove a lot of them to share answers on the final.

If Harvard’s most valuable players did resort to copying answers from classmates on a take-home, the athletics department and the administration should take the wide-open opportunity to address some of the problems that arise for students trying to compete at the national level while also trying to graduate Harvard. Otherwise, not only does the academic life of the school suffer, the teams that lose good players to academic pressure do too.