In the past five seasons, Tommy Amaker has transformed Harvard basketball from an eight-win laughingstock to a 26-win powerhouse by landing higher-profile recruits than any previous Crimson coach had ever even pursued.
Now the question is whether Amaker will receive less academic leeway in the future after two of his top players have been implicated in a widespread cheating scandal.
Ivy League Player of the Year candidate Kyle Casey and fellow senior co-captain Brandyn Curry are among the 125 students the university's administrative board is investigating for "acts of academic dishonesty" on a take-home final exam in a government class, SI.com reported late Monday night. The allegations range from "inappropriate collaboration" to "outright plagiarism," both of which could carry up to a one-year suspension from school.
Rather than fight the allegations, Casey will withdraw from school and likely miss the 2012-13 season, SI.com reported. Curry has yet to decide whether to withdraw or not, his father, Herman Curry, said.
The advantage of withdrawing from school for Casey and Curry is that it could enable them to return and play for Harvard during the 2013-14 season. Whereas they risk forfeiting their final season of Ivy League eligibility if they disputed the charges and the board ruled against them, withdrawing for a year leaves the door open for readmission to Harvard and a return to the basketball team this time next year.
If Harvard plays next season without Casey and Curry, assessing the short-term impact of their absence is straightforward.
Casey averaged a team-high 11.4 points and 5.5 rebounds as a junior. Curry chipped in 7.9 points and 4.9 assists. Not having both their primary interior threat and their pass-first point guard would certainly complicate the Crimson's bid to repeat as Ivy League champs and force them to rely on younger players.
The broad impact on the basketball program and other sports at Harvard is the more intriguing and complex aspect of the story.
Even though plenty of everyday students are ensnared in this scandal, it's the involvement of a handful of high-profile athletes that will surely generate the most headlines. In addition to Casey and Curry, the Harvard Crimson reported Monday that the football team is preparing to "miss a few players."
Could this cause Harvard's administration to rethink its enrollment standards for men's basketball and other sports? If so, it could make Amaker's task of maintaining Harvard's status as the Ivy League's premier basketball program more challenging.
The rise of Harvard has inspired complaints from Ivy League opponents that the Crimson have relaxed their enrollment requirements for men's basketball in order to give Amaker a larger pool of potential recruits. Harvard has vehemently denied that charge, claiming its admission standards for basketball and other sports remain as stringent as ever.
Regardless of which version is true, there's no question Harvard basketball has enjoyed a period of great prosperity under Amaker.
When Harvard hired Amaker to elevate its basketball program in 2007 after an 8-22 season the previous year, the Crimson hadn't ever won 20 games in a season and hadn't made the NCAA tournament since 1946. Amaker has landed a handful of academic-minded top 100 recruits and upgraded the talent level in the program considerably, propelling Harvard to three straight 20-win seasons, a co-Ivy League title in 2011 and an outright championship in 2012.
Even if Havard takes a back seat to Princeton in the 2012-13 Ivy League race without Casey or Curry, the Crimson could potentially have their best team in school history the following year if the two seniors return and the young talent matures as expected. That's a big "if" though because the Harvard administration has to approve.
This cheating scandal is sure to spark some outcry from those who feel Harvard has placed too much emphasis on athletic success. The question is how school administrators will respond and whether they'll meddle more in athletics as a result.
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