As they meet before their Wednesday night practice, competitors for the Harvard Quiz Bowl team chat comfortably, rarely mentioning the cheating scandal that has recently rocked their program.
The half dozen players compete for a team, but they are no typical sportsmen—they gather in a classroom, not a locker room, and in a typical practice they do more toss-ups than pull-ups. In a competition short on glory, there are few fans and no monetary prizes.
But this squad of low-profile knowledge-junkies found itself in the headlines this past month when the team was stripped of four national championship titles due to the alleged indiscretions of the team’s former president.
Andrew M. Watkins ’11, who led the club from 2008 to 2011, was accused of viewing game questions in advance of multiple national tournaments, and, though he says he did not use them to cheat, he acknowledges accessing them through an online server.
But players say they have not let the media buzz rattle them. Stephen Liu ’14, the team’s current vice president, is keen to point out that the team has more important things to focus on—wtth this year’s national tournament less than two weeks away, Harvard’s squad will have something to prove in the wake of a scandal that has prompted soul searching throughout the Quiz Bowl circuit.
“I feel like we could win back some redemption,” Stephen Liu says, looking to his teammates for a nod of approval.
As the team quietly fills up a small classroom beneath Memorial Hall, Harvard’s players seem a bit bemused by the way the story, propelled by Harvard’s unexpected win in the NCAA tournament on March 21, rocketed into headlines in newspapers based everywhere from Australia to Africa.
“I’m just really amazed that there are random articles from Nepal and Nigeria,” says Liu, as his teammates laugh quietly, shaking their heads in apparent disbelief.
On March 20, National Academic Quiz Tournaments, LLC, announced that an audit of its server logs showed that Watkins, a former question-writer for high school tournaments, had violated the company’s honor code by exploiting a security flaw that enabled him to view college-level questions on the company’s server.
Although none of Watkins’s former teammates have been accused of wrongdoing, NAQT revoked Harvard’s four national championships titles between 2009 and 2011 as punishment.
And while only one member of Harvard’s current team played with Watkins, Harvard’s current players were also pulled into the fray when The Boston Globe, Slate, and The Atlantic Wire contacted team members for interviews in the days after NAQT’s announcement.
Fola A. Sofela ’16, a freshman team member, says the recent media attention has been a motivator.
“The only thing that its going to make anyone do is work harder this year at nationals,” she adds.