Even Harvard isn't immune to NCAA violations

Jeff Eisenberg

Had any other school announced Friday that it was self-reporting inadvertent secondary recruiting violations committed three years ago, the reaction from the general public would have been a collective yawn.

Because it's Harvard — yes Harvard — the story becomes a bit more newsworthy.

The violations stem from a 2008 New York Times report that detailed visits to prospective Harvard recruits by current assistant coach Kenny Blakeney before he was hired by the Crimson. Harvard and the Ivy League initially determined in Sept. 2008 that no violations occurred, but the school altered its stance after three years of denials as a result of recent conversations with NCAA officials. From the Ivy League:

The NCAA staff agreed with the Ivy league's and Harvard's original conclusions that at the time of the conversations Mr. Blakeney had not been offered employment and did not have an employment agreement and that any violation was "secondary."

However, under the NCAA's interpretation of its rules, Mr. Blakeney's conversations with the Harvard coaching staff during a time when he was independently observing prospective student-athletes required a finding of improper recruiting assistance to Harvard.

After these discussions with the NCAA, Harvard elected to acknowledge a secondary violation and to self-impose recruiting limits for the 2010-11 academic year.

The ruling seems to be fair considering the New York Times report made it pretty clear that Blakeney tried to influence prospective recruits to Harvard. Blakeney, who played at Duke when coach Tommy Amaker was an assistant there, repeatedly played pickup games with prospects Harvard was recruiting, once even traveling nearly 400 miles roundtrip to take part in a game with forward Keith Wright of Norfolk, Va.

"We talked and exchanged numbers," Wright told the Times.

On the one hand, you can't come down too hard on Harvard considering hardly anyone raised an eyebrow when Clemson self-reported 17 secondary violations in February. On the other hand, this is a school that regularly produces congressmen and Nobel Prize winners and seldom allows athletic scandal to taint its reputation.

Amaker has done a good job building the Crimson into one of the better programs in the Ivy League. He just needs to be careful not to let Harvard's thirst for athletic success sully the school's otherwise pristine reputation.