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One Year Later: The Impact of the Gov 1310 Cheating Scandal on Harvard Athletics

According to NCAA bylaw 14.2.3.1, a student-athlete begins a season of eligibility as soon as he engages in a contest against outside competition. This flow chart follows the path a student-athlete could have taken after being accused of collaboration in the Gov 1310 scandal.
According to NCAA bylaw 14.2.3.1, a student-athlete begins a season of eligibility as soon as he engages in a contest against outside competition. This flow chart follows the path a student-athlete could have taken after being accused of collaboration in the Gov 1310 scandal.
By David Freed, Alexander Koenig, and Michael D. Ledecky, Crimson Staff Writers

As Jordan sat scrolling through new emails during an informal team meeting in August of last year, one message on the laptop screen stood out.

It was from the Office of the Secretary of the Administrative Board, and about 125 other Harvard studentsmany of whom had not yet arrived on campus or had graduated that past May—had already or would soon receive emails very much like it. It told them they were being investigated by the Ad Board regarding their work in a government course they had enrolled in the previous spring and instructed them to meet with Ad Board Secretary John “Jay” L. Ellison as soon as possible.

Jordan, a fall varsity athlete who requested a pseudonym to avoid association with the cheating case that would become known as the Government 1310 scandal, was not the only person in the room that day to receive the bad news.

“My face turned pale, and I noticed a lot of other kids on my team looking over at me,” Jordan recalled. “And they had this look on their faces like they knew what was going on.”

It was the beginning of an ordeal that sidelined the co-captains of the men’s basketball team, created significant turnover on several varsity rosters, and, some student-athletes said, changed the way that Harvard athletics are perceived both on campus and further afield.

Today, with many departed athletes now back on campus and with their teams, the spectre of Government 1310 no longer looms in quite the same way over Harvard’s athletic courts and fields. But as members of Harvard’s athletics community try to put the saga behind them, the memory of the scandal remains fresh.

AFTER THE EMAIL

For some students, receiving the dreaded Government 1310 email meant talking to parents, weighing financial considerations, rethinking academic plans, and perhaps preparing to move back home. For many athletes like Jordan, particularly those who compete in the fall, it meant an additional set of calculations—deciding whether to take the field, stay in school but sit on the sidelines, or preemptively take a leave of absence.

Faced with these added burdens, some athletes also received support and advice from members of the Athletic Department.

The day after receiving the Ad Board email, Jordan was called into the Athletic Department to meet with a compliance officer to discuss possible routes forward. In the meeting, the compliance officer urged Jordan not to play with the team in an upcoming organized sporting event. If Jordan played in that event and then was required to withdraw in connection with the scandal, Jordan would lose one of four possible seasons of eligibility, the officer said.

Jordan opted to sit out for a third of the season before receiving a packet detailing the evidence the Ad Board had compiled concerning Jordan’s case. It was only then that Jordan felt informed enough to make a decision about whether to start playing or to withdraw.

But even before that, Jordan and other accused teammates faced the issue of communicating the situation to the rest of the team.

“It was something that we went through as a group,” Jordan remembered. “We addressed the team as a group, we explained the situation as a group. It was really a group thing. Within the next 24 hours, it was really becoming a thing that we realized was not contained to our team.”

As rumors of other classmates being investigated started to swirl in the last days of the summer, Jordan remembers that things were “quieter” than expected. But that silence was short-lived, when, on August 30 of last year, Harvard proactively announced that it had a massive cheating case on its hands.

ATHLETES IN THE SPOTLIGHT

As the scandal unfolded, athletics assumed a central place in the public’s perception of the incident.

Reporters gathered in front of Currier House after news broke that the basketball co-captains and Currier roommates Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry would withdraw from the College for a year in connection with the Government 1310 scandal in order to maintain their academic eligibility.  They quickly became the face of the scandal under the glare of the national spotlight.

With two of Harvard’s most prominent athletes publicly branded as cheaters, the scandal piqued interest in discussions about the role of athletics at Harvard. Accusations of lowered academic standards were levied at men’s basketball coach Tommy Amaker, Athletics Director Robert L. “Bob” Scalise, and the administration.

Suspicions that this was an athletes’ scandal were raised as it became increasingly clear that Government 1310’s reach was not just limited to Curry and Casey, or even just one or two sports.

On September 10, 2012, just five days before the football team’s season opener against San Diego, a report surfaced that Harvard’s team was bracing for potential roster changes as a result of the investigation. The news about Curry and Casey broke on Sept. 11, and the Sept. 12 leak of Platt’s initial complaint letter identified members of the baseball team as among the accused students. Media outlets also soon reported that men’s hockey had been affected by the scandal.

“The scariest thing with the whole situation was how public it got,” Jordan said. “Now I’m going back home for Thanksgiving, and people are asking me if I was involved in the cheating scandal.”

Despite this attention paid toward athletes, the number of student-athletes affected by the scandal could not be definitively confirmed. Even as rosters appeared seemingly depleted, all reports that missing players were gone due to their involvement in the scandal ultimately amounted to speculation.

It should be noted that student-athletes set to return to a team choose instead to leave their sport for any number of reasons on a regular basis. In 2009, Harvard football coach Tim Murphy estimated that the retention rate of recruited athletes across all sports was roughly 70 percent over the previous 15 years. An analysis of Harvard’s varsity rosters from the previous three seasons shows that somewhere between 125 and 150 non-graduating athletes who would be expected to return to a team’s roster do not the following year. Student-athletes leave teams due to injury, personal issues, or just to pursue other interests.

COPING ON AND OFF THE FIELD

Even as it runs the most varsity athletic programs of any university in the country, the Harvard administration prides itself on a commitment to maintaining academic standards in the pursuit of athletic success, according to Jerry R. Green, political economy professor and chair of the Faculty Standing Committee on Athletic Sports.

“It is important to recognize that all Harvard students are treated equally and all are held to the same standards of academic performance and integrity,” Green wrote in an email. “That is one of the things that makes Harvard special.”

Yet in the case of Government 1310, it became quickly apparent that despite a formal commitment to equality, athletes being investigated would be forced to grapple with a series of considerations that their non-athlete classmates would not. Foremost among these was the issue of athletic eligibility.

“No other student who was being investigated was forced to put off doing the thing that they love because they might get in trouble,” Jordan said. “That wouldn’t have happened for someone on the Quiz Bowl team. It’s crazy.”

Though a voluntary withdrawal was not necessarily equivalent to an admission of guilt, in the eyes of many, it constituted as much.

Geoffrey B. Stearns ’82—a member of the Friends of Harvard Basketball, a group of alumni supporters of the program—said he felt particularly sympathetic towards Curry and Casey, who he believes were singled out in media coverage of the scandal.

“You heard Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey’s name over and over again,” Stearns said. “I felt badly for those two individuals.”

REACTING FROM WITHIN

WIth the fates of accused athletes uncertain as season openers approached, coaches started to prepare for the worst. Many were forced to try to predict the outcome of various investigations with little to no knowledge of an end date. Though none of the coaches asked for comment were willing to discuss the specifics of this procedure, Green applauded their professionalism in the middle of an unexpected situation.

“I am proud of our coaches for upholding high academic standards and for their understanding of how the College was going to handle the matter,” Green wrote. “Faced with some unanticipated roster changes, they were 100 percent  professional in a very difficult time.”

Beyond the struggles faced by particular teams in the aftermath of the announcement, the Athletic Department immediately confronted internal communications decisions and an external public relations crisis.

The Athletic Department faced the challenge of disseminating clear and accurate information to coaches, accused students, and administrators regarding the specific considerations facing student-athletes implicated in the scandal.

Student-athletes interviewed for this story said the Athletic Department informed all of the varsity coaches of the scope of the investigation in a single briefing, though the context in which the brief was conducted could not be confirmed. Sources in the Athletic Department neither confirmed nor denied that the briefing was delivered in a meeting, stating that department-wide meetings are fairly common and such a topic could have been on the agenda.

On Aug. 16 of last year, Ellison sent an email to the resident deans advising them on how to counsel student-athletes implicated in the scandal. Though the content of the email only contained general advising recommendations, the email helped set into motion a series of events that had reverberations far beyond the scope of the cheating scandal. A leak of Ellison’s email to The Crimson was part of administrators’ justification for secret searches of resident deans’ email accounts that some have suggested led to the resignation of former Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds, though she has disputed that account.

Throughout it all, the Athletic Department opted for official silence on the issue. In the year since the scandal broke, the department has maintained a stance of no comment on the incident, and a handful of coaches interviewed by Crimson sports reporters over the past year have declined to talk on the record about implications of the scandal for their team’s season.

Even a year later, sources within the Athletic Department informed The Crimson that an email was sent to all 42 varsity coaches instructing them to refer all inquiries regarding this Crimson article to Tim Williamson, director of athletic communications. Williamson did not respond to requests for comment, though he referred questions regarding athletic eligibility to the Ivy League Office.

LOOKING FORWARD

More than a year after the announcement of the investigation, Green suggested that it is time to move past the scandal.

“Now that time has passed and the students who withdrew have returned to campus, I think we should warmly welcome them back,” Green wrote. “There are many lessons to be learned from this episode and I hope that we will keep these lessons in mind as we move forward.”

Yet not all athletes feel warmly welcomed back. One athlete told The Crimson she feels uncomfortable telling her professors that she is an athlete due to fears that she will be treated differently in the classroom.

John E. Dowling, neuroscience professor and member of the Faculty Standing Committee on Athletic Sports, disputed the idea that faculty members are treating student-athletes any differently in the wake of Government 1310.

"I do not feel that faculty sentiments regarding athletics were changed at all by the scandal,” Dowling wrote in an email. “I have never heard any faculty member saying anything along these lines.”

Despite the ordeal of the past year, Jordan too has found reason for optimism. Even following an experience Jordan would rather forget, Jordan is still proud to play a sport at Harvard.

“I wouldn’t say I’m hesitant to tell professors that I’m an athlete,” Jordan said. “I don’t think they would put any judgments on me. I know some people that feel differently, but not me.”

—Staff writer Alexander Koenig can be reached at alexander.koenig@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer David Freed can be reached at david.freed@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @CrimsonDPFreed.

—Staff writer Michael D. Ledecky can be reached at michael.ledecky@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @MDLedecky.

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