Imagine you’re watching a Chapman basketball game. With no referees, an opposing player hits a shot with their foot well over the 3-point line. The player says it was a 3-pointer, and since there are no referees, it counts. It’s early in the game and Chapman players figure it’s better to save their energy.
This is an unimaginable scenario in basketball and most major sports, because no game would proceed without some oversight. But cheating like this pervades golf and tennis. Whether it’s taking illegal ball drops, not counting strokes or calling shots “in” when they’re “out,” there is a specific problem of cheating that plagues golf and tennis.
I played golf at Randolph High School in northern New Jersey. I never had the focus required to be a talented golfer, but I still played. While the world of north New Jersey high school golf sounds equally, if not more intense than the PGA Tour, we didn’t have cameras or referees during our matches.
That meant that, in our group of four players each round, I was responsible for counting my own strokes on each hole, as well as my teammate’s and two opponents’. High school boys are neither known for their integrity nor their intelligence, so you can imagine the cheating and very unconvincing lies that ensued.
When caught cheating, players often stared off to the side and counted each of their shots. Then they’d say, “Oh yeah, I did take six shots, not five. My bad.”
I won’t pretend I didn’t shave a few strokes off my scores in some matches. And sometimes, I was caught. Most of the time, cheating wasn’t even about beating my opponents, it was just about not wanting to admit that it took me three tries to hit a ball out of the woods.
While junior Emily Lewis, a Chapman women’s golfer, said cheating hasn’t been a huge issue at the Division III level, it does happen – with illegal ball drops, or moving a ball into a more advantageous position. Small adjustments are not easily seen, meaning players often succeed in getting away with them.
“It happens all the time,” said Izzy Oedekerk, a freshman on the women’s tennis team. “I’ve learned how to deal with it, but it’s frustrating. But you can’t show (frustration) because it helps (your opponent).”
At youth levels, the problem is endemic. Anna Maite-Kaplan, a freshman also on Chapman’s team, said that youth tennis in her home state of New York was filled with cheating and overbearing parents.
While there is one line judge in every Division III tennis match, they don’t catch everything. And more judges requires more money from Division III programs.
The only real solution to this is promoting integrity and stricter punishments for cheating. I know that might sound hypocritical, considering I cheated in high school. But there shouldn’t be excuses for cheating, and it can’t continue to be this easy to do.
Punishments for cheating should be severe, like they are at the top levels of tennis and golf. It should be met with disqualifications, and people who cheat persistently should be banned from playing the sport competitively.
The culture of cheating exists largely because players don’t trust each other and try to gain an edge without the presence of judges. There’s a notion that “everyone” is cheating, so it becomes a necessity.
Coaches need to drill home the importance of treating opponents as both colleagues and equals. It’s much tougher to cheat against someone when you respect them as both a person and an athlete.