West Point Cheaters Mostly Athletes

The Academy is prioritizing football glory over honor.

When the news of the worst cheating scandal at West Point in decades came to light, Academy officials painted it as a systemic failure and a teachable moment. Now, it seems that it’s something far worse than some freshman cadets under pressure.

Tom Vanden Brook for USA TODAY (“West Point cheating scandal involved mostly athletes, including football players on Liberty Bowl team“):

The majority of the cadets involved in the worst academic cheating scandal at West Point in 45 years are athletes, including 24 members of the football team that is scheduled to play in a bowl game on Thursday, according to West Point officials.

In all, 55 of the 73 cadets accused of cheating on a calculus final exam in May are athletes, including 17 who remain on the football team, according to figures released to USA TODAY by West Point.

A few have played in football games this season after having been accused of cheating. Some of those players could dress and play in the Liberty Bowl on Thursday, according to Army Lt. Col. Christopher Ophardt, a West Point spokesman.

They’re allowed to play because West Point’s superintendent in October suspended a policy that limited or prevented cadets found in violation of the academy’s honor code from representing the academy in public, including athletes at sports events.

Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, the superintendent, in an Oct. 23 memo, wrote to the faculty that the policy “has resulted in an inequitable application of consequences and developmental opportunities for select groups of cadets.” USA TODAY obtained a copy of the memo.

Under the suspended policy, most of the cadets would not have been eligible to play after Nov. 30, the date they were found in violation of the honor code, Ophardt said. The academy is not naming the cadets. Their punishment will be finalized in January.

That corps squad athletes, and particularly football players, get privileged treatment at West Point and other service academies is not a new development. They’re often admitted despite academic performance in high school far below required to be competitive otherwise, get special tutoring (including often a year at academy prep schools), and escape most of the rigors of the plebe system. But that also comes with arduous training for their sport and a substantial sacrifice of time.

Given how small a percentage they are of the student body, the fact that they constituted three-quarters of the cheaters is a huge red flag. Rather clearly, they conspired to cheat. More problematic still, they somehow gained access to the exam ahead of time.

Additionally, one has to wonder whether the leniency in dealing with their cheating is a function of their status as athletes. Would the decision to allow them to continue on despite such a flagrant violation of the honor code been the same if 55 of the 73 were non-athletes rather than the reverse?

And suspending the rule forbidding honor code violators from representing the institution in off-campus events so that the players can be competitive in a postseason exhibition game is simply shameful. Sure, playing in the Liberty Bowl is a “developmental opportunity.” So is enduring the punishment required for earning one’s way back into the community of honorable men.

In a letter sent to faculty, staff and alumni on Wednesday, a copy of which was sent to USA TODAY, Williams attributed the incident in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, which dispersed the cadets from the academy and the influence of its faculty and staff.

“These Cadets chose the easier wrong over the harder right,” Williams wrote. “As the Superintendent, I own this cheating incident. Furthermore, I and every leader at West Point own their role in developing leaders of character. The standards established by the Cadet Honor Code have not changed and the Honor System receives my personal investment of time and attention. West Point takes every Honor Code violation seriously.”

Not as seriously as football, apparently.

And, while we can find a way to forgive athletes trying to preserve their eligibility for “choosing the easier wrong,” we should damn well expect a three-star general to choose the harder right. He did not do that here.

FILED UNDER: Academia, Education, Military Affairs, Sports
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    I think you can be absolutely sure that the leniency accorded these guys is a function of their being football players.

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  2. MarkedMan says:

    Division 1 college athletics are corrupt and they corrupt the institutions and individuals surrounding them. It says a lot about the human condition that so many otherwise decent people look the other way and invest so much of their identity in these pretend-amateur circuses.

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  3. Owen says:

    In earlier reporting there was indication that the cheating was discovered due to a high occurrence of an identical, but incorrect solution. West Point officials implied the cheating occurred due to many/most cadets being involved in remote learning.

    Pure speculation on my part but likely the opposite is true; the cheat was less well contrived this year as the cadets were all separated from each other, in past years there could have been better coordination between the cadets needing the “boost”, and select soft hearted instructors and coaching/athletic staff who coordinated these shenanigans.

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  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Division 1 sports maybe the most corrupting influence on colleges, but major sports at all levels has an deleterious effect on schools. I graduated from a Div II school 45 years ago that happened to be a major hockey power. Undeniably hockey players lived privileged lives on campus and received benefits that the rest of us could only hope for.

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  5. Not the IT Dept. says:

    And West Point needs a football team – why, exactly?

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  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    High School or College, when there’s cheating, or when there’s rape, it’s generally the athletes. Because sports is so useful at forming character.

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  7. MarkedMan says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Just out of curiosity, what school was that? I went to a division 3 (I think? Definitely not Div 1) hockey powerhouse, Rochester Institute of Technology. The athletes were lauded by their classmates, but there were significant mitigations that prevented the worst of the corruption. First and foremost, they were not division one and it was hockey to boot, so only the most naive saw it as a gateway to the pros. Second, there were only a handful of half scholarships available. Even with a half scholarship the school was expensive (as I learned the hard way after my academic full ride on tuition got eaten away by runaway inflation during the five years I was there (and yes, it was a five year program)). And third it was a difficult school. So even the students who were wrangling sports into degrees were primarily doing it there because the degree actually meant something.

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  8. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    I’ve never understood this. The most lauded champ on my high school football team played a game called “kick the cripple,” wherein he’d shove, push, or trip kids who were disabled or temporarily on crutches. Hilarious, right?

    The male faculty thought he was God. He could have raped and butchered the principal’s wife and his alleged adult enablers would have cheered him on.

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  9. @CSK:

    I’ve never understood this.

    Allow me to explain: a great many males are shitty human beings. The shitty men idolize other shitty men. They want to be even shittier, to aspire to be among the very shittiest of men. And the shitty men bully and intimidate the not-shitty men and effectively silence them. Because the non-shitty men are outnumbered, weak and have no better model of masculinity to refer to.

    Or at least that’s how it used to be.

    Now the non-shitty men – thanks hugely to gays, trans and feminist women – have been liberated from the tyranny of shitty men. Now we are better able to push back. I’ve spent my entire life distancing myself from shitty men, trying (with some failures) to find my way through life as a male who doesn’t enjoy braying like a desperate mule, or ridiculing gays, or cosplaying as a tough guy, or treating women as prey.

    There is no feminist, gay or trans person who despises shitty men with more intensity than I do. And the nexus of male shittiness is sports. Many non-shitty men also enjoy sports, but 100% of male fuckwits love sports.

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  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Merrimack, in those years they were usually among the favorites for the ECAC Div II hockey championship. I don’t pay any attention any longer but I recall they bumped themselves up to Div I and now regularly get their heads handed to them by the likes of BU, BC, Harvard and Northeastern.

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  11. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    The comment you quoted was intended to be faux-naif. But I enjoyed your explanation.

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  12. JohnMcC says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: Exactly right! When this discussion of ‘big-sports’ vs ‘education’ in Universities is discussed there usually is a voice describing the money that is made for the school by the Athletic Dep’t. Military academies seem not to fit in that scheme.

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  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @CSK:
    Dude(tte). Like I didn’t know that?

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  14. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Of course you did.

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    And suspending the rule forbidding honor code violators from representing the institution in off-campus events so that the players can be competitive in a postseason exhibition game is simply shameful. Sure, playing in the Liberty Bowl is a “developmental opportunity.” So is enduring the punishment required for earning one’s way back into the community of honorable men.

    😐 (This is my shocked face.)

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  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: Because ALL important schools have them. Just ask around, everybody knows that.

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  17. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: That’s not really the reason. The main reason is that sports–activities in general: music, art, drama, clubs, too–increase the bond to the culture that makes the institution what it becomes. The whole “builds character/drives student achievement” thing is what we tell you guys to get the funding. But it’s really about sorting the cohort to find who “our people” are.

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  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Somehow the Europeans – not indifferent to sports – do not have college sports. Their sports universe is separate from education. That way when some rugby player rapes, it’s the club that takes the hit, not some school.

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  19. mattbernius says:

    @MarkedMan:
    I didn’t know you were a Tiger! When were you there?

    I did my undergraduate at RIT and taught there for a number of years in the early 2000’s. Depending on when you were there, the Hockey team was either D3 or D1 (assuming you’re not a super old timer). The team went D1 around 2005.

    Aside but somewhat germane to this topic: RIT Hockey has a pretty good rivalry with Navy.

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  20. MarkedMan says:

    @mattbernius: 1978-83. EE. Really positive experience. Worked for Xerox for five years after graduation.

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  21. mattbernius says:

    @MarkedMan:

    1978-83. EE.

    Nice. So before either of my times! I figured you were an engineering major given the 5 year comment. Glad to hear it was a good experience for you. I don’t know if you’ve ever been back, but you probably wouldn’t recognize the campus as its grown tremendously since then (and even since my time as an undergrad in the mid 90’s).

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