NCAA Bans 15 'Diploma Mills'

By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 8, 2006

The NCAA yesterday announced its initial crackdown on "diploma mills" that give high school credit to athletes who do little or no schoolwork, but almost all of the 15 banned schools no longer field athletic teams or never have, rendering the action virtually meaningless, officials at many of the schools said.

An initial review of the schools that will no longer be allowed to offer academic credit toward NCAA eligibility found only one athlete affected by the decision. A swimmer who had accepted an athletic and academic scholarship to Pepperdine now can't compete because she was home-schooled as a ninth-grader in a program supervised by one of the banned schools, her father said.

Kevin Lennon, the NCAA's vice president for membership services, said yesterday that the NCAA still is investigating 30 schools and plans to release another list of disassociated schools by July 31. "It's the first list," Lennon said. "There will be subsequent lists over the next 2 1/2 weeks. I can tell you there will be new schools added all the time."

George Brown, who supervises the Tazewell (Va.) County Career & Technical Center, said he was surprised his vocational facility was banned -- or that it had ever been approved. The center offers courses such as carpentry, welding, masonry and cosmetology but has no athletic program.

"Well, there goes the five 6-foot-10 guys we had coming in," Brown joked. "We might have made a few basketball rims over there, but we don't play basketball."

Lennon said he did not know why each of the 15 schools was initially approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse, which certifies curricula submitted by individual high schools. The Clearinghouse then approves transcripts of prospective athletes after receiving their grades. Problems arose because the Clearinghouse did not verify the legitimacy of the schools and instead relied on an honor system. In the wake of reports that the Clearinghouse had certified schools with questionable academic practices, the NCAA launched its investigation of some private schools and has changed some Clearinghouse practices. Only athletes entering college this fall and in the future face losing their eligibility if their schools are banned.

Officials at two of the banned schools, Celestial Prep and Philadelphia Christian Academy, told The Post in February that basketball coach Darryl Schofield fielded successful teams at their schools, but the programs were shut down without players receiving any academic credit because they weren't performing schoolwork. The Clearinghouse approved many courses the schools did not offer, the officials said.

Schofield then created Lutheran Christian Academy, where all the students are basketball players and the school has no classrooms or full-time teachers, a Post investigation found. Omar Williams played for Schofield at all three places and used the academic credit to gain admission to George Washington, The Post found. George Washington has modified some of its admission procedures in the wake of The Post's articles.

Lutheran Christian is not on the NCAA's banned list. NCAA officials visited the school last month and haven't decided whether to invalidate it, Lennon said.

When asked why the NCAA banned schools that do not have athletic teams, Lennon said, "I think we responded in a timely and appropriate manner."

Swimmer Amy Nightingale was home-schooled by her mother, Susan, who was supervised by teachers at Paradise Christian School in Paradise, Calif., during Amy's freshman year. Amy Nightingale transferred to HomeTech Charter School in Paradise after her freshman year. She signed a national letter-of-intent in April to swim at Pepperdine this fall.

Her father said she scored better than 1,100 on the SAT and has earned 20 credits from Butte College in Oroville, Calif., maintaining a 3.8 grade-point average. But because Paradise is banned, the NCAA has told the family she is ineligible.

"My wife has talked to the NCAA repeatedly and they've been reluctant to even review it," said Bob Nightingale, whose oldest daughter, Jennifer, was a diver at Columbia. "They keep telling us they've got to go by their rules. They told us they don't care what she did on the SAT or what she's done in college."

Lennon said the ban includes a review process for athletes such as Nightingale, and that she could regain her eligibility.

Zina Bonham, an administrator at Paradise Christian, said she plans to appeal the ban by submitting more material to the NCAA. She said the school has been open for 40 years and has four full-time teachers, one part-time teacher and 62 students. She said it had basketball and volleyball teams in the past but doesn't now.

The other schools on the NCAA list that do not offer sports include three Web-based correspondence schools: Goliath Academy (Miami Lakes, Fla.), Hawaii Electronic School (Honolulu) and North Atlantic Regional High School (Lewiston, Maine). Four schools are closed: Einstein Charter (Morrisville, Pa.), Rich Township High School's Phoenix Campus (Park Forest, Ill.), Sagemount School (Miami) and University (Miami). One is solely an adult-education program: Martinez Adult Education (Martinez, Calif.). American Academy (Miami) dropped its basketball program. And Virginia Beach Central Academy (Virginia Beach) does not offer sports, according to its Web site.

Officials at the other school on the list, Ranch Academy of Canton, Tex., could not be reached to confirm if it has an athletic program.

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