CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The ivy crawling up the red brick columns of Harvard's Murr Center has begun to wither and brown as fall approaches, and with it the start of this year's sports seasons.
Inside the athletic department headquarters, coaches prepared for upcoming games and students lifted in the weight room. Workmen repaired the Harvard Stadium concrete to get it ready for the school's 139th football opener against San Diego, and players headed into the Dillon Field House to change for practice.
Some of them might not make it to Saturday's kickoff.
The Harvard College Administrative Board is investigating whether as many as 125 students may have shared answers or plagiarized on an open-book, take-home final exam for a single class, reportedly "Introduction to Congress." Although the school, citing federal privacy laws, would not identify the class or individual students involved, reports say the senior co-captains of the basketball team and several football and baseball players are among those implicated.
"It really is a University matter and the athletic department is just one component of the University," Harvard sports information director Kurt Svoboda said on Wednesday. "I cannot speculate on how this recent news might affect any University program or department."
Football coach Tim Murphy also declined to comment on specifics, and basketball coach Tommy Amaker was unavailable for comment. No one has been removed from the football or basketball rosters posted on the athletic department website, and the football coaching staff signed off on a depth chart for Saturday's game, Svoboda said.
"All of our 24 projected starters are in good academic standing," Murphy, who missed Wednesday's football media luncheon for what Svoboda said was a previously scheduled, all-coach admissions meeting, said in a brief telephone interview with The Associated Press. "They are healthy and will be ready to play on Saturday."
Long considered one of the best academic institutions in the world, Harvard has been improving in athletics as well, winning the Ivy League title in football last year and reaching the NCAA basketball tournament for the first time in 46 years.
But the unprecedented cheating scandal and the reported link to some of the school's top athletes raises the question of whether success in sports has required academic compromise at the institution that, on the list released Wednesday, placed first in the annual U.S. News & World Report college rankings for the fifth consecutive year.
Harvard President Drew Faust was not immediately available for comment Wednesday. But she said last week that the yet-unproven allegations, "represent totally unacceptable behavior that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends." Faust also alluded to the scandal in last week's convocation for the incoming freshman, quoting a letter sent to them by undergraduate dean Jay Harris that said, "Without integrity, there can be no genuine achievement."
"That is what each of us owes to Harvard," she told the students when she welcomed the Class of 2016 to campus. "But, far more importantly, it is what each of us owes to ourselves."
In confirming the investigation, Harvard officials stressed that the school has not yet determined whether any students cheated on the exam, which allowed them to use books, notes and the internet but also said, according to a copy of the test obtained by The Harvard Crimson, "Students may not discuss the exam with others."
Even so, the school newspaper reported on Wednesday, an assistant professor noted similarities among the exams turned in by students, including a typo – an extraneous space in the number "22, 500" – that was present in two exams.
Harris said that the Administrative Board could exonerate students or hand out punishments ranging from admonishment to requiring them to take a year off. But the delay in resolving the cases is especially troublesome for athletes trying to navigate NCAA and Ivy League eligibility rules while waiting to learn their punishment – or whether they will be punished at all by the secretive Harvard disciplinary panel known and feared by students as the "Ad Board."
The Crimson obtained an email from John Ellison, the Ad Board's secretary, advising athletes to weigh potential Ivy League eligibility issues when deciding whether or not to remain on campus for the fall term. "Fall-term athletes may also want to consider taking (a leave) before their first game," Ellison wrote, according to the paper.
Sports Illustrated first reported on its web site that Kyle Casey, the leading scorer on last year's Ivy League champion basketball team, had decided to withdraw from school rather than risk losing his final year of eligibility; the Boston Herald reported that his fellow captain, Brandyn Curry, also was expected to withdraw from classes. NCAA rules would dock the players, both seniors, their final year of eligibility if they withdrew after beginning classes or competing against another school.
For other sports, it's already too late.
Field hockey played its first game on Sept. 1. Men's and women's soccer have also started their seasons already, meaning any players who are asked to take a year off would forfeit a full year of eligibility. (Decisions from the Ad Board could come at any time, but the unprecedented investigation is expected to take weeks or months.)
Stopped outside the field house Wednesday, running back Treavor Scales declined to comment, saying he knew little about the scandal. Across the river, where some students hurried to classes and others suntanned on a grassy quad between the upperclass houses and Harvard Square, few were willing to discuss the events with a reporter.
"Everyone here's pretty busy. We're all getting ready for our own classes," said Will Dingee, a sophomore majoring in classics. "Perhaps professors are talking about academic integrity a little more than they regularly would."
Dingee said he didn't know anyone who had taken Government 1310, an upper-level class that would probably have been filled with juniors that are now seniors and seniors who have since graduated. Although the cheating scandal dominated discussion when students first returned to campus, he said most are more worried now about the death of a junior who killed himself at his New Hampshire home last week.
"That has taken over what is concerning the student body right now," Dingee said.
AP Sports Writer Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.