Before we get into any kind of analysis, let’s first update you on the latest in the academic scandal at Harvard.
Over the summer, news broke of an academic scandal brewing on Harvard’s campus. As many as 125 students were implicated in cheating on a take-home final exam, that may have been as serious as plagiarized answers or as commonplace as simply collaborating on the test.
Early on Tuesday morning, Sports Illustrated broke the news that senior forward Kyle Casey was one of the students being investigated and would likely be withdrawing from school in an effort to preserve his final year of collegiate eligibility. CBSSports.com followed up with the scoop that senior point guard Brandyn Curry was also implicated but, as of now, has yet to make the final decision to leave school. There may also be a third player involved.
If Casey and Curry do end up leaving school, it will be a massive blow to the Crimson. With Keith Wright and Oliver McNally graduating, Harvard will be without 80% of their starting lineup from a year ago. Tommy Amaker and his staff have put together a number of incredibly impressive recruiting classes in a row, consistently beating out high-major programs for recruits that are ranked in or around the top 100 or 150.
But the issue isn’t the talent level on Harvard; it’s the experience level. Everyone is young, which is bad news for a league where every other team has experience. As Andy Katz put it earlier today, “the players are intelligent and eat up the scouting report. The gyms are small and everyone is extremely familiar with each team, making it even harder for any team to coast.” Think about it like this: despite having more talent on their roster, Harvard didn’t make the NCAA tournament in 2011 and had to scrap their way through the conference in 2012. No Curry means a freshman starts at the point. No Casey means a pair of seldom-used sophomores will patrol the paint. That could easily spell trouble for Harvard during the 2012-2013 season, even if it means they have a chance to be scary-good if Casey and Curry return for 2013-2014.
The more intriguing question, however, is what this means for the future of the Crimson.
Last summer, I wrote an lengthy feature on Harvard’s recruiting tactics and how they have been able to thrust themselves into the mix with some of the biggest of the big boys. The long and short of it: Harvard targets the most talented hoopers in the country that have grades good enough to get them into school and goes after them hard, selling them on what a Harvard degree will mean for their future. As assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel told me at the time, “Harvard’s not a four year decision, it’s a 40 year decision.”
It has become a bit of a point of contention in the Ivy, however, as most believe that Harvard has lowered their standards for admitting basketball players. The Ivy League has a rule, an Academic Index in which an athlete must earn a qualifying value to be eligible. If they don’t have a high enough score — a combination of their grades, their class rank and their standardized test scores — they aren’t going to an Ivy League school. Harvard can’t get around that.
But as a source told me at the time, it used to be that Harvard, Yale and Princeton held themselves to a higher standard, and that the Crimson are no longer doing that.
Will the administration continue to allow students closer to the cut line into the University when there is this kind of negative press associated with it?
Because keep in mind, this scandal is different from the one involving UNC. This isn’t an institutional issue or a case of athletes being shuffled off to a “friendly” professor and major. This is two, possibly three, basketball players finding themselves embroiled in a cheating scandal. How hard would it be for a stuffy department head to make the argument that this is proof the players allowed in with a lower academic standard cannot cut it at Harvard?
Taking it a step further, if Amaker is no longer allowed to get in the more-talented-but-academically-borderline recruits, does he stay at Harvard or does he jump to a higher-paying job in a better league at a bigger program?
I don’t think it is crazy to say that at the rate things are currently going, Harvard has a chance to become the Gonzaga of the east coast. But given the amount of bad press this scandal is going to receive and the fact that it will be tied back into the basketball program, will things really continue to develop at this rate?
It will be one of the most intriguing story lines to follow over the course of the next year.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.