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Cheating case entangles athletes at Harvard

Basketball star leaving, aims for eligibility later

Kyle Casey, Harvard’s leading scorer, is choosing to withdraw voluntarily, in an attempt to preserve his eligibility in the future.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Kyle Casey, Harvard’s leading scorer, is choosing to withdraw voluntarily, in an attempt to preserve his eligibility in the future.

Harvard University basketball star Kyle Casey is voluntarily withdrawing from school for the year and will miss the entire season because he is one of about 125 students suspected of cheating on a take-home final exam, according to a person with direct knowledge of Casey’s decision.

Casey, a senior cocaptain and the team’s leading scorer, is not the only prominent athlete to be touched by the cheating scandal. Fellow cocaptain Brandyn Curry is also expected to leave, according to SI.com.

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The players are not necessarily withdrawing because they are guilty. They are making a strategic decision, leaving before playing any games to ensure that they will have NCAA eligibility next year. If they were to stay and then be found guilty, they could be kicked out midseason, costing a full year of eligibility.

Other Harvard athletes who took last spring’s “Introduction to Congress” course — widely reputed to be an easy class compatible with intense sports schedules — are probably weighing the same scenarios.

As many as half of the 125 students now under scrutiny play varsity sports, according to a student athlete who is implicated, and who said he was basing his estimate on information from his resident dean.

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“All the coaches are talking to their teams about it,” he told the Globe. “They’re on pins and needles.”

For his own part, he said he planned to stay on for the year and hoped to be exonerated.

The student athlete said he considered Casey a friend and was angry that Casey had become the first Harvard student involved in the cheating scandal to be publicly named in media reports, as Casey first was by SI.com on Tuesday.

Typically, investigations of academic misbehavior, like all other student disciplinary probes handled by Harvard’s Administrative Board, are kept confidential. But in August, Harvard took the unusual step of revealing its investigation to the media, worrying some implicated students who feared their identities would also become known.

“Look at Kyle — his name is national news. He doesn’t deserve that. He deserves the same confidentiality about an [Administrative] Board proceeding that every other student does,” his friend said, adding: “I hope people don’t look at this and presume guilt.”

Harvard football coach Tim Murphy said Tuesday that to the best of his knowledge, his “top 24 starters coming out of spring football are all healthy, in good academic standing, and ready to play on Saturday.” He added that he expected them to remain in good standing for the rest of the school year.

Three sources told the Globe that some of the football team’s 115 members are implicated in the investigation and that a few might leave school as a result.

Murphy declined to comment on that or to name students who might be involved, citing federal student privacy laws.

Further decisions to withdraw were probably made Tuesday, which was “Study Card Day,” the deadline by which Harvard students must officially commit to classes. Students who withdraw from school before Study Card Day can do so without paying any tuition for the semester, though after that they are on the hook for an amount that increases month to month. (No students are being threatened with expulsion; the maximum penalty is expected to be yearlong suspension.)

For many athletes under investigation, another deadline — the scheduled day of their first games — may be equally or more important.

“This has put athletes in a Catch-22. If you don’t withdraw before the season and then you’re forced to later in the year, you lose your eligibility. That’s a huge loss,” said an implicated student who knows many athletes facing that dilemma. “On the other hand, you don’t want to miss a season [if you don’t have to], either.”

Harvard officials have told some athletes to consider that point carefully, judging by an Aug. 16 e-mail obtained by the Globe. In the e-mail — addressed simply to “colleagues” — Jay Ellison, associate dean and Administrative Board secretary, notes that “fall term athletes may also want to consider taking [a leave of absence] before their first game,” citing the eligibility question. He added, “let’s not get into advising students on NCAA rules,” saying that role should be played by college athletics staffers rather than deans.

Harvard administrators declined to comment on the e-mail.

Matthew Platt, the professor who taught “Intro to Congress,” has also declined repeated requests for comment.

Another implicated athlete told the Globe that some collaboration took place on team buses, where teammates would often discuss the course, pooling notes before and during the take-home exam period. Though the exam policy prohibited discussion during that time, students were allowed to use any available notes in formulating their answers.

“A lot of athletes are implicated because we had to rely on each other’s notes. We were sharing notes before the exam even started,” he said. “There was no other way to keep up with the material given that we were traveling four out of five days of the season.”

Of his own case, that athlete said he expected to have a hearing in the next few weeks over similarities to one other student’s exam answers. Those similarities, he said, sprang from the fact that he and the student had shared notes earlier in the semester — but, he added, “we didn’t even work together on the final.”

Mary Carmichael can be reached at mary.carmichael@globe.com. Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.
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