Harvard University abruptly canceled the season of its men’s soccer team Thursday, after a university investigation found that a lewd online “scouting report” about female athletes created in 2012 had continued into the current fall semester.
Harvard president Drew Faust said the decision was made after university officials discovered that the “appalling actions of the 2012 men’s soccer team . . . appear to have been more widespread across the team and have continued beyond 2012, including in the current season.”
Initially, the ranking system was linked only to the 2012 team. In her statement, Faust said she is “deeply distressed” to learn that the postings had continued.
The team had two more regular season games scheduled, including a matchup Saturday against Columbia, where a share of the Ivy League crown, and an NCAA tournament berth, was at stake.
But those hopes were dashed Thursday, when Harvard athletic director Robert Scalise made the decision to cancel the remainder of the season, and any playoff hopes.
“As a direct result of what Harvard athletics have learned,” Scalise wrote in an e-mail sent to all student athletes Thursday, “. . . (the team) will forfeit its remaining games and will decline any opportunity to achieve an Ivy League championship or to participate in the NCAA Tournament.”
Scalise said the athletics department would work with the university’s Office of Sexual Assault and Response to “further educate the members of our men’s soccer team, and all of our student athletes about the seriousness of these behaviors and the general standard of respect and conduct that is expected.”
“Harvard athletics has zero tolerance for this type of behavior,” Scalise wrote.
The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, first reported the ranking scandal last week.
The stunning move came days after Faust asked the university’s Office of the General Counsel to “conduct an immediate review” of the 2012 men’s soccer team’s sexually explicit “scouting report” of freshmen women soccer players.
The “scouting guide” was circulated July 31, 2012, through an e-mail server that remained public on Google Groups until recently, the Crimson reported.
The freshmen players were ranked by number, given written and photographic descriptions of their appearance, and assigned assumed sexual behavior.
Scalise wrote that the suspension of the rest of the season is “absolutely necessary if we are to create an environment of mutual support, respect, and trust among our students and our teams.”
Faust backed Scalise’s decision, she said in her statement.
“I fully support the clear and unequivocal decision . . . today to cancel the remainder of the team’s season, including post-season play,” Faust said. “I also agree with [Scalise’s] desire to engage the team in a systematic program of training and to use this experience to reinforce core institutional values across the entire Department of Athletics.”
Faust acknowledged that canceling a season is “serious and consequential” and said the decision reflects the gravity of the situation.
She said the team’s “behavior and the failure to be forthcoming when initially questioned are completely unacceptable, have no place at Harvard, and run counter to the mutual respect that is a core value of our community.”
The men’s soccer had posted a 10-3-2 overall record this year, according to its website. With a win against Columbia at home Saturday, the Crimson would have earned an automatic NCAA tournament spot, along with a share of the Ivy League title.
Men’s head coach Pieter Lehrer did not respond to an e-mail inquiry, and a home telephone number could not be located Thursday night.
Ivy League athletic officials could not be reached for comment.
Several Harvard men’s players either did not respond to inquiries or declined to comment.
On campus, some students criticized the action as too extreme.
“If it were the whole team, then the whole team should be suspended,” said Christopher Rios, 19, a freshman from Texas. “If it were just some players, they should just be suspended. If the coaches knew, they should be suspended.”
A female sophomore, who asked not to be named, said Harvard is scapegoating the soccer team. Harvard announced a new policy this year to discourage participation in so-called finals clubs and other single-sex organizations on campus.
“What the soccer team did was not isolated,” she said. “The college used them as an example. It’s not fair.”
But freshman Andrew Meersand was more supportive of the team discipline.
“I think the school is trying to get away from that negative image associated with sexual assault and harassment,” Meersand said. “The school is making strides against things like finals clubs. The suspension aligns with that idea.”
In a separate statement Thursday, Rakesh Khurana, the dean of Harvard College, said the institution must continue to work on encouraging mutual respect among students.
“It is clear that as individuals, as members of groups, and as a community, we need to do more to ensure that relationships on this campus are built on respect and dignity in all contexts. We cannot be a great college unless we are a good community,” Khurana said.