CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Harvard University will be stripped of four national quiz championship titles after organizers found a competitor from the Ivy League school inappropriately accessed information about questions used in the tournament.
The National Academic Quiz Tournaments said that a security review found that Harvard competitor Andy Watkins accessed pages on its administrative Website just before the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Intercollegiate Championship Tournaments or "Quiz Bowls".
"We can't have that happen," said Robert Hentzel, NAQT president said on Friday.
The quiz organizers said their review found that Watkins accessed Web pages that showed the first 40 characters of questions to be asked at the tournaments, though it said it had no direct or statistical evidence that Watkins and three others took advantage of their prior access in game situations.
Hentzel, the group's president, said sometimes even the first 40 characters of a question can be telling.
At the time of the review, Watkins was working for the quiz organizer as question writer for high-school level contests. The NAQT said Watkins has been terminated as a question writer.
Watkins denied any wrongdoing.
"My immaturity damaged my much-prized relationship with NAQT and cast undue doubt on three remarkable accomplishments by three Harvard teams," said Watkins, in a statement issued by the organization. "I regret my breaches of question security .... Though I know everyone will make their own judgments, I did compete in good faith."
A Harvard spokesman declined to comment on the news.
The academic setback for the prestigious New England school came a day after Harvard scored a rare athletic triumph -- winning its first-ever game in the national college basketball championships.
It follows an incident last year when dozens of students were forced to withdraw temporarily from the university after cheating on a final exam in the largest academic scandal to hit the nearly four-century-old school in recent memory.
The National Academic Quiz Tournaments said they would vacate all of Harvard's wins at the Division I events in 2009 through 2011 and recognize other teams as national champions.
It named the University of Minnesota as undergraduate champion in 2009; the University of Chicago as Division I champion in 2010; the University of Minnesota as Division I champion in 2011, and Virginia Commonwealth University as undergraduate champion in 2011.
Editing by Scott Malone and Andrew Hay