NCAA to Release 'Diploma Mill' List

By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 3, 2006

The NCAA has identified 10 to 15 nontraditional preparatory schools it has deemed "diploma mills" and will no longer accept academic transcripts from athletes who attend those schools, an NCAA official said yesterday. The NCAA will release the list of schools Tuesday and plans on identifying more schools in early July, according to Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of membership services.

The NCAA Board of Directors gave college sports' governing body the authority in April to investigate schools with questionable academic rigor and declare athletes attending those schools ineligible to compete in intercollegiate athletics.

"It won't be the complete list, but it will be the first one," said Lennon, chairman of an NCAA committee that investigated the prep schools. "We're still looking at a number of other schools. There were schools where we went back and sought more information and we either got no response at all or the responses weren't sufficient. We visited some schools. There were some schools that were turned down."

A series of stories in The Washington Post has raised questions about the academic integrity of some prep schools with successful basketball programs and the NCAA Clearinghouse's certification of transcripts from those schools. The Clearinghouse was established by the NCAA to approve courses offered by high schools and certify the transcripts of student-athletes. However, investigations by The Post revealed the clearinghouse relied on what was essentially an honor system, in which administrators would submit courses offered at the schools. In some cases, schools were approved to offer courses such as chemistry even though it had no lab, or foreign languages such as Greek when teachers weren't qualified to instruct them.

Four of the schools questioned by The Post were listed as "inactivated" on the Clearinghouse's Web site yesterday after having approved status recently.

Even though the subject of the first Post report, Lutheran Christian Academy in Philadelphia, was listed as "inactivated," Lennon said "no decision from our end has been made on Lutheran Christian Academy."

Stoneridge Preparatory School in Simi Valley, Calif., which was the subject of another report by The Post, also was listed as "inactivated" by the Clearinghouse. Lennon refused to comment on Stoneridge's status.

The Post reported that Stoneridge players attended classes for a few hours each day and were so loosely associated with the school that most students had never seen the team play.

Jeannette Noble, an administrator at Stoneridge, said two NCAA officials visited Stoneridge last week and asked questions about the school's classes, graduation rates and whether many of the school's students attended college. Noble said the NCAA contacted the school after she failed to submit a questionnaire by the deadline.

"They just wanted to make sure it was a real school," Noble said. "They took a tour of the school, and we showed them our textbooks, which are college prep. I'd hate to be lumped into that category of schools that need to be audited because I was late turning in the questionnaire."

Two other Philadelphia schools listed as "inactivated" yesterday, Celestial Prep and Philadelphia Christian Academy, no longer have basketball teams. They were part of a Post report that found that Omar Williams, a senior on George Washington's basketball team that won the Atlantic 10 regular season title and played in the NCAA tournament last season, attended both schools, but officials at each said he received no academic credit.

Williams also attended Lutheran Christian, which, like Celestial Prep and Philadelphia Christian, was coached by Darryl Schofield, a former sanitation worker. The Post report on Lutheran Christian found that the school does not have its own school building or formal classrooms and operates out of a community center in a ragged North Philadelphia neighborhood. Schofield, who does not have a college degree, is the school's only full-time employee.

Meantime, schools in the Southeastern Conference on Friday approved legislation to strengthen their review of recruits' academic credentials. When a recruit's standardized test scores increase dramatically, or if there are concerns about a transcript, the decision on admittance will be left to the university's president. A report will then be sent to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, who is authorized to override any decision.

"This has been a growing issue of national concern," Slive said in a statement released by the SEC.

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