Two quiz bowl trophies awarded to Harvard University will soon be emblazoned with new nameplates: “University of Minnesota.”
Harvard was stripped of four national quiz bowl championships Friday by National Academic Quiz Tournaments, which announced that one of the team’s players had accessed parts of questions prepared for tournaments in which he later competed.
Titles were transferred to the runners-up. The University of Minnesota is now the winner of competitions in 2009 and 2011.
“It still doesn’t really make sense to me. It’s awesome,” said Andrew Hart, who competed on both University of Minnesota teams. “We did it. We actually did it.”
In the world of quiz bowl, NAQT hosts the faster-paced and more game-show-like of the two big national tournaments. Minnesota’s 2009 title is for its undergraduate team, while the 2011 victory came in the more competitive Division I match, in which graduate students participate.
Those years represented “the golden age of our quiz bowl team,” said Hart, now a third-year law student at the University of Minnesota.
They entered the 2011 tournament confident they could win. For a while, it looked as if they might. Minnesota was “undefeated going into the final round-robin match,” according to a tournament write-up at the time. It was close, “but we just couldn’t seem to beat this Harvard team,” Hart said.
Second place. Minnesota would go on to place second in quiz bowl’s other big tournament later that year. Close, but not quite.
“We were sort of like — to use a sports analogy — Charles Barkley,” Hart said. “We had great careers, were seen as some of the best players maybe ever to play the game. But we never really broke through and won that title.
“Now, it’s like, finally, some vindication.”
NAQT found evidence that a total of four players, who also worked as writers for them, “frequently” and improperly accessed parts of its administrative website for college competitions. In a statement, the organization said it had “neither direct nor statistical evidence that these writers took advantage of their prior access in game situations, but the mere possession of it goes against competitors’ expectations of fair play.”
The Harvard player, Andy Watkins, said in a prepared statement that “though I know everyone will make their own judgments, I did compete in good faith.”
But Hart said Watkins’ access to the first part of questions is “like having the answer key to the test.”
“It’s not gaining an advantage,” he said. “It’s actually knowing the answers.”
In addition to Hart, the University of Minnesota’s 2011 lineup included Rob Carson, Gautam Kandlikar and Mike Cheyne. Hart and Carson played quiz bowl together at Chaska High School and the pair joined the U’s team together as freshmen.
Upon hearing news that Harvard had been stripped of its wins, Cheyne said he first felt satisfied — but then angry. The teammates “were never really given a chance to celebrate as a team and be honored,” he said by e-mail.
The doctoral student compared it to being told you couldn’t graduate from high school and being excluded from the ceremonies, then finding out a year later that you did, in fact, graduate.
“The title lasts forever,” Cheyne said, “but you missed out on everything associated with it.”
Hart said he hopes the team can gather at an upcoming tournament in Chicago to savor the win together.
“Nobody can take this away from us now,” Hart said. He paused, laughed, then joked: “Unless they subsequently catch us cheating.”