By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 28, 2006
In what the NCAA hopes will be the first significant step in eliminating fraudulent preparatory schools and high schools, its board of directors yesterday gave college sports' governing body unprecedented authority to investigate "diploma mills" and declare students who attend those schools academically ineligible.
The new rules will allow NCAA officials to make on-campus visits to questionable schools. Further, they allow the NCAA Clearinghouse, which verifies the academic credentials of prospective student-athletes and determines initial eligibility for college sports, to question any transcript that seems irregular. The new rules will go into effect this summer, meaning student-athletes enrolled at several questionable prep schools might be in danger of losing their eligibility.
Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for membership services and chairman of a committee that recommended changing the ways prep schools are monitored, said during a teleconference yesterday that the NCAA already has identified 40 prep schools that will come under greater scrutiny.
"The level of fraud is increasing," NCAA President Myles Brand said during the teleconference. "This is a much larger civic problem than just in college athletics. We should not underestimate the severity of the problem."
Investigations by The Washington Post and New York Times found several prep schools across the country that operate with little oversight by the NCAA or state education boards. Lutheran Christian Academy in Philadelphia, which was the subject of an investigation by The Post, had only one full-time employee -- basketball coach Darryl Schofield -- and was operated out of a community center.
The investigations found some prep schools offer courses with little academic rigor and are operated for one purpose -- to get athletes academically eligible to play college sports. Former basketball players at Lutheran Christian Academy, for instance, told The Post they rarely attended classes and that the school had no teachers and didn't use traditional textbooks. Yet, Lutheran Christian Academy is still approved to teach 35 core classes approved by the NCAA, the Clearinghouse's Web site showed last night.
Among other changes approved by the NCAA, prospective student-athletes' scores from the SAT and ACT, the standardized tests widely used by colleges in admissions decisions, must now be directly reported to the Clearinghouse. The Post reported in February that for the past several years, high schools were allowed to report the scores to the Clearinghouse, sometimes in handwriting, and some scores were never verified with testing agencies.
Also, NCAA bylaws on unethical conduct will be expanded to include failure to provide complete and accurate information to the NCAA or college admissions offices regarding a student-athlete's academic record. The NCAA hopes the rule change will put more of an onus on coaches to verify the academic credentials of their recruits. The Post reported in March that George Washington senior Omar Williams was admitted even though he didn't graduate from high school and attended four prep schools associated with Schofield, earning most of his academic requirements during a three-month period at a school operated by the coach in a Philadelphia rowhouse.
The NCAA plans to hire four full-time staff members to help monitor prep schools and high schools. Lennon said more than 4,000 nontraditional schools fall outside the regulation of state education boards. Brand said during a recent one-week period, the Clearinghouse received applications from students at 40 new nontraditional schools.