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John Harvard's Journal

Men's Basketball Exonerated

November-December 2008

An inquiry by the Ivy League into allegations of improper recruiting by the Harvard men’s basketball program and of lowered standards of admissions for the team—raised initially in a March 2008 New York Times article—has determined that no violations of either National Collegiate Athletic Association or Ivy League rules occurred. In addition, the league’s routine annual review of admissions standards found that all admitted Harvard recruits met the requirements mandated by the league, which issued a statement on September 3 that read, in part:

Harvard Head Coach Tommy Amaker and Assistant Coach Kenneth Blakeney were completely forthcoming in their participation in this inquiry, and interviews with others who were involved, as well as a thorough examination of relevant records, corroborated that the coaches’ contacts with prospective student-athletes and their families were entirely consistent with NCAA and Ivy League rules.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome,” Harvard athletic director Robert L. Scalise said after the results became public. “It was what we had expected it to be,” he added. “We have a program that abides by the letter and the spirit of NCAA and Ivy rules and we want to continue that.”

“This matter got a lot of attention because it was raised in the press,” said Jeff Orleans, executive director of the Ivy League (see “Questions about Recruiting,” May-June, page 76, and ”What Next for Ivy League Sports,” July-August, page 75). “The admissions part was a non-story, in the sense that the reporter could have simply waited until the admissions decisions were known, instead of asking people to speculate.”

As for the alleged recruiting violations, which centered on the fact that assistant coach Blakeney had played basketball—before Harvard hired him—with a prospect, Orleans said the committee conducting the investigation asked three questions: Was Blakeney a Harvard employee? Was he a Harvard representative? Was he trying to recruit athletes to Harvard at the time of these activities? “The answer was no in each case,” Orleans noted. Such issues arise and are investigated routinely in Division One athletic programs; what made the Harvard instance unusual, he said, “was the level of attention that was focused on it.”

Orleans did indicate that the allegations have prompted the league to begin “discussing with all the schools the importance of being very clear about the employment relationship and how it develops. That way,” he added—given the public perception that the periods before and after someone is hired “shade together”—“they can avoid even the appearance of impropriety.”