December 30, 2020

West Point cheating scandal involved mostly athletes, including football players on Liberty Bowl team


WASHINGTON – 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.

Williams has ordered a review of the policy. The timing of the Williams’ decision was not related to the football season, Ophardt said.

“We didn’t cancel the punishment,” Ophardt said. “We delayed it until final adjudication.”Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.

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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.”

The academy’s honor code, engraved in a stone monument at the school on the banks of the Hudson River, states: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.”

USA TODAY reported last week that the academic scandal was the worst since the 1976 when 153 cadets were caught cheating on a mechanical engineering exam. That scandal resulted in reforms at West Point that cracked down on hazing and moved the academy from a model that emphasized attrition toward one that develops leadership qualities in cadets.

West Point’s football team is scheduled to play West Virginia Thursday in the Liberty Bowl at Memphis, Tennessee.

Fifty-eight cadets admitted cheating on the exam, which was administered remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of them were in their first year at the academy and have been enrolled in a rehabilitation program. They will be on probation for the remainder of their time at the academy. Others resigned, and some face hearings that could result in their expulsion.

By Tom Vanden Brook

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