As you have probably heard, as many as 125 Harvard University students, including several varsity athletes, are alleged to have cheated on a take-home final exam in a Government course last semester. While the investigation is still underway, and no students have been sanctioned, some athletes who might be involved in the scandal are taking a leave of absence in order to possibly preserve their playing eligibility. Two senior captains of the basketball team have taken leaves for the 2012-2013 school year.

While Harvard’s president has been quick to point out that athletes should not be singled out for blame in this scandal (as it involves many different student groups), thus far the athletes have gotten much of the attention. As the NY Times reported a few days ago, at the recent Harvard football season opener many were as interested in the scandal as they were in the score. Reporters covering the game noted that several football players were not in uniform, and speculated as to whether they had been implicated in the scandal. (For the football fans among us, Harvard defeated the University of San Diego in their first time matchup, 28-13.)

This cheating scandal gives us a valuable opportunity to talk with our sons about the importance of doing the right thing, regardless of how easy or tempting it may be to follow others down the wrong path. How a lapse in judgment, regardless of how minor it may seem at the time, can have major consequences. As Harvard football coach Tim Murphy eloquently put it in a post-game interview,

I think it’s important as parents and educators that we have to reinforce that crucial life lesson, that inappropriate behavior won’t be tolerated. Because down the road, later in life, those consequences can be terminal. They can cost you a marriage. They can cost you a career.

Talk to your school-aged boys about the critical importance of making sound decisions in the context of this scandal. Hopefully they’ll listen and learn.