Commentary: Should Athlete Involvement In Harvard's Cheating Scandal Change The Story?

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Over 100 Harvard undergraduates who took a course called "Introduction to Congress" are being investigated for cheating. A couple of them played varsity basketball. Probably anybody who considers this a basketball story should consider again.

Harvard's Kyle Casey plans to withdraw from school amid a cheating scandal that also may involve other athletes, according to several reports. (AP)
Harvard's Kyle Casey plans to withdraw from school amid a cheating scandal that also may involve other athletes, according to reports. (AP)

Tommy Amaker, the coach who is credited with the dramatic improvement of men's basketball at Harvard over the past five years, has been accused of bringing to the university players whose academic qualifications did not match those of their non-athlete classmates, or even those of their predecessors on Harvard basketball teams.

If he has not done that, it's likely that he stands alone among coaches. Not just basketball coaches. Not just coaches at colleges and universities that compete at the Division I level. Coaches and those who decide whether to rehire them prefer winning to losing. They recruit accordingly, and they do so with the assistance of the admissions directors.

This is not to suggest that the athletes who've been accused of "acts of academic dishonesty" are guilty. Nearly half of the 279 students enrolled in the course where the academic dishonesty allegedly took place have been implicated, and apparently Harvard will investigate the circumstances and determine whether each one was innocent, or a little shaky in terms of academic self-reliance, or a big, fat cheater.

Among those accused there are some basketball players.

Apparently there are some football players, too.

It's likely that there are also some vegans; some people who've elected to get their noses pierced; some clever folks who will shortly start exceptionally profitable if morally wobbly business enterprises, if they haven't already done so; some relatives of people who are not now and have never been members of the Communist Party.

But even at an Ivy League university, the students who most dependably generate publicity do it by playing football or basketball. The tale of the investigation of 125 Harvard students for cheating would have raised eyebrows under any circumstances, but inclusion of the co-captains of the basketball team on the list of alleged miscreants has elevated those eyebrows considerably and inevitably altered the discussion, which is unfortunate and probably unfair.

This program aired on September 12, 2012.

Headshot of Bill Littlefield

Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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