School Administrators Say NCAA Crackdown on 'Diploma Mills' Is Flawed

Lutheran Christian basketball coach Darryl Schofield was discovered to be the only teacher at the school in an investigation last year.
Lutheran Christian basketball coach Darryl Schofield was discovered to be the only teacher at the school in an investigation last year. (2006 Photo By Mark L. Baer For The Washington Post)

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By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 7, 2007

More than a year after the initial published report on the problem, the NCAA on Monday handed down relevant penalties to a prep basketball power with questionable academic practices. In a news release, the NCAA heralded the announcement as evidence of its "continuing effort to better ensure the integrity of academic credentials."

But school administrators across the nation say the NCAA's effort to clean up prep basketball and eliminate schools that serve as "diploma mills" has caused as many problems as it's solved.

Since it announced July 5 that it had found more than 30 problematic private schools, the NCAA impugned schools that never have fielded basketball teams and punished schools that do not exist, administrators said. It confused two sets of schools with the same name. It sanctioned a program for special-needs children in Virginia and an alternative education program run by a California probation department.

This summer, it questioned the academics at two prominent Virginia schools, Oak Hill and Fork Union, and abruptly cleared them a couple weeks later. In at least one other case, the NCAA publicly tarnished a program, cleared it, yet did not announce the change.

Even the bans announced Monday of Lutheran Christian Academy (Philadelphia), Florida Preparatory Academy (Port Charlotte), American Academy High School (Miami) and Prince Avenue Preparatory Academy (Pickens, S.C.) are imperfect. Florida Prep is closed, and there have been two American Academy schools in Miami cited by the NCAA, but it's unclear which school had been cleared.

"The whole thing is a mess," said Cal Woolard, an administrator at Riverview Learning Center in Chesapeake, Va., a temporarily banned school that serves students with learning disabilities. "The NCAA's got the wrong schools. They're confused. They've got a bunch of mistakes, and we had a nightmare of a time getting them to correct it."

Since it started its investigation in April, the NCAA has reviewed 200 nontraditional high schools and sent investigators to visit about 20 schools, said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of membership services. It continues to investigate schools with perceived academic irregularities.

Lennon said the NCAA investigated only schools that had applied to the NCAA Clearinghouse, an independent organization that certifies the academic records of prospective athletes. But administrators of many of the programs said they never submitted anything to the Clearinghouse. One said that she is such a non-sports fan that she had never heard of the NCAA.

"We're not out there digging up schools that don't have teams and that sort of thing," Lennon said last night. "It certainly wasn't a witch hunt."

The Washington Post reported first on Lutheran Christian, finding that the school had only one full-time employee, the basketball coach, and quoted anonymously a player who said no schoolwork was required to get grades that would make a player eligible in college.

The NCAA's announcement Monday does not change the eligibility status of former Lutheran Christian players, including George Washington guard Maureece Rice, who scored a team-high 16.1 points per game for the Colonials (20-8). Another Lutheran Christian product, Omar Williams, played a key role on last season's NCAA tournament team.

Forward Marc Egerson, also from Lutheran Christian, left Georgetown in January to transfer to Delaware. Three Lutheran Christian players are starters at Texas-El Paso and another, Theo Davis, would have been a part of Gonzaga's run to the NCAA tournament but was injured and then suspended after being arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

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