And then there was the Penn State student who used the "death in the family" excuse once too often.

"It was an Italian student," recalled Carol Shloss, an English professor of 30 years who now teaches at Stanford. "Every time he had a paper due, he had a grandmother who had died. That was a three-strikes-you're-out rule. You don't have three grandmothers -- not in an Italian family."

For college students, spring is the season of formal dances and informal lawn parties, of last gatherings of friends before the summer or life beyond the gates.

But it is also when final papers come due, and excuses begin to fly.

There are old standbys -- illness, towed cars, family crises -- but also new ones. Hard drives and computer viruses, not dogs, devour homework these days. One student told University of Central Arkansas composition instructor Beverly Carol Lucey that an exploding blender drenched his paper with an appetite suppressant smoothie.

Some educators believe late papers -- and the excuse-making that goes with them -- are on the rise. Many lump the trend in with grade inflation as evidence of declining standards, a growing sense of student entitlement and a campus culture in which instructors are expected to act more as friends and therapists than teachers.

For instructors in the classroom, extension requests pose real quandaries. More students have families and jobs these days. Are they better served by a compassionate extension or a harsh lesson on deadlines? Is granting extensions fair to students who turn in work on time?

Diana Archibald, who teaches English at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, lays down a tough policy on extensions. She grants few of them and demands tow-truck receipts and doctors' notes to corroborate students' stories.

But she will make exceptions. One student works 50 hours per week, cares for a sick mother and pays a mortgage.

"When that student tells me she has to turn in something late, I say, 'Sure,' " Archibald said.

At Wellesley, a women's college in suburban Boston, students say extension requests are fairly common, and usually accommodated.

That is partly because students work hard and carry a heavy extracurricular load, so assertions of stress ring true. The school also has a strong honor code, so excuses are assumed legitimate. When a student died recently, one teacher offered students an extension, but trusted them to use it only if they were genuinely affected.

"Our life isn't just about being a student. We're daughters, we're friends," said Lisa Giragosian, a sophomore neuroscience major from North Scituate, R.I.

Life crises aside, many think plain old sloth is the real problem.

A national student survey recently found that nearly two-thirds of students spent 15 hours or less per week doing coursework, and about 20 percent of freshmen and seniors said they spend less than five hours per week.

For the truly lazy, a feature on one Web site generates automatic excuse-requesting e-mails. Users pick the phrases they want, asking for "a bit of slack" or a "slight favor" because they "have SO much work to do" and could never finish the assignment "in the complete way you deserve."

"As an isolated phenomenon it might not be so serious, but it has to be seen in the overall context of diminishing expectations," said Bradford Wilson, executive director of the National Association of Scholars, a group that is combating what it believes is a decline in college standards.

Extensions for illness or family tragedy are reasonable, he said, "but my impression is all a student needs to do is ask and he will be obliged."

After 22 years of mounting frustration over extension requests, Wellesley political science professor William Joseph introduced a new approach to his classes two years ago. His students have seven extension days, to allocate as they choose, each semester. But then he starts knocking down grades, barring an extraordinary excuse such as a death in the family.

Joseph also tells students to save and print drafts. If a final version is lost in a computer crash, he expects an earlier version.

The change has cut back on the excuses he hears.

"I do think [students] need to learn how to manage their time; they do need to meet their commitments. That's one of the things we hope to teach them," Joseph said. "But there's also a recognition that everybody's human."

But if being human means balancing commitments, it also means feeling the pull of a sunny spring day.

"You get to the end of the semester, it's 85 degrees out, all your friends are on the lawn playing Frisbee," said Corey Frampton, an undergraduate at Binghamton University in New York, who admits to occasional extension requests. "It takes a certain amount of will to write a paper, which most people don't possess."

At Wellesley College, professor William Joseph allows students such as junior Jennifer Yum to have seven extension days to use at their discretion. Then he starts penalizing the tardy.