Athletes Make the Grade Sooner by Failing First
The idea of withdrawing seemed strange, Young said, "but I was willing to do whatever it took."
Young plans to attend Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., this fall.
University of Maryland incoming freshman football player Keon Lattimore followed the same path. A standout at Mount St. Joseph in Baltimore as a senior in the 2002-03 school year, he failed to graduate and repeated 12th grade at Hargrave, where he raised his high school grades enough to meet NCAA eligibility requirements.
Lattimore said he intentionally failed English in the second semester of his senior year at Mount St. Joseph.
"It seems really strange," Lattimore said. "My mom was really mad about the whole process. Four years of high school, she wanted me to get a diploma."
Said Hargrave football coach Robert Prunty, "I cannot tell a kid not to graduate, but I can tell him what the options are."
Prunty said six of 62 members of his team last season were repeating their senior year of high school and that he has five repeating senior football players scheduled to attend this school year. However, he thinks that more athletes will use this technique.
"It's not a big deal, but I'm predicting it could become a big deal," Prunty said.
Chris Chaney, who coaches the post-graduate boys' basketball team at Laurinburg (N.C.) Institute, said he has had players follow this route to achieve eligibility.
"It's usually the college coaches [who] let them know they shouldn't graduate," said Chaney, who previously coached several Washington area private school teams.
Bill Barton, the boys' basketball coach at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., said: "I don't think it's uncommon. I think you'll see one or two [such] kids on prep school rosters."
Players who fall short of NCAA eligibility requirements are not bound by the college commitments made as seniors and are free to sign with another school as they work to improve their scores or grades.
The current sliding scale went into effect in 1995 and was revised in 1996, allowing students to gain eligibility with a 2.5 GPA and 820 on the SAT. A higher SAT score would compensate for a lower GPA, so that a student with a 2.0 GPA could gain eligibility with an SAT score of 1,010 or higher.
Before the sliding scale, the minimums for NCAA eligibility were simply a 2.0 GPA in core courses and a 700 SAT score. The sliding scale was adopted to de-emphasize the SAT score and give more weight to the GPA, which many officials believe is a better indicator of a student's ability to succeed in college.
The NCAA Division I Board of Directors last month rejected legislation that would have allowed high school graduates to take one course after graduation at any school to raise their GPA, a proposal that might have helped players who narrowly missed being eligible.
A player "is going to take the same courses in high school and prep school under either scenario" of graduating or not graduating, University of Virginia football coach Al Groh said. "The difference is whether he gets to hold a degree from the high school he has attended for four years, which would be a nice thing to do. I think it would be a good rule for players if they could graduate and the prep school year be used for [academic] qualification. But just because it's good for the players doesn't mean it's the way the NCAA thinks."
NCAA Division I governance liaison Steve Mallonee said member schools can address the issue if they think the rules are being abused. He said "it is hard to argue against [the fact that the present system benefits those who do not graduate], but the whole idea of purposely failing a class to do that, that becomes a whole lot less palatable for the public to swallow."
"Given the situation the way it is, it forces people . . . to do some things that I personally don't think are the right things to do, but they may be the right things to do for the kid," said George Washington University Athletic Director Jack Kvancz.
Meantime, Jones said the most difficult thing was sitting in the stands on graduation day and watching his peers walk across the stage and accept their diplomas.
"People kept asking why I wasn't walking," Jones said. "That's the hardest part about it. Everybody asked, 'Why are you still here? Why didn't you graduate? Why didn't you get your diploma?' That's something you can't get used to."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company