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NCAA Pointlessly Bans 15 "Diploma Mills"

A few months ago, I wrote about investigations done by the New York Times and Washington Post into some prep schools that appeared to be operating more like basketball camps than high schools. I'd start with that link if you're unfamiliar with this story.

Yesterday, the NCAA announced that it had barred 15 institutions from providing credit toward NCAA eligibility. This is good news, surely. A step in the right direction. Or not:

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.

If you're eager to click the WaPost link to see if Philadelphia's Lutheran Christian Academy--which was featured prominently in the Post and NYT investigations back in February--was one of the fifteen, don't bother. Three Philly-area schools were on the list, but Lutheran Christian wasn't one of 'em.

It gets better. The Post story continues:

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.

That's just the NCAA in a nutshell, isn't it? The whole point is to stop schools from handing out cheap diplomas to basketball players. To stop coaches like Karl Hobbs and Rick Stansbury from enrolling kids who are unprepared for college.

Instead, this initial list of schools leaves the issue unaddressed. In sanctioning a bunch of schools that don't even have athletics programs (much less basketball programs), the NCAA has managed to strike at people who didn't even know they were targets.

There's the swimmer mentioned in the excerpt above--she scored over 1100 on the SAT. I can only imagine her surprise...

There's the hockey player who got a diploma from a correspondence school who could have his scholarship put in jeopardy.

Quoting from the Post article again:

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."

I know how this conversation started:

Reporter: I was wondering if you'd like to comment on the NCAA's recent banishment of your school and fourteen others from providing credit toward NCAA eligibility.

Brown: We've been banned by who from the what now?

Why is the list populated by so many athletics-less institutions? Paperwork, apparently:

Most of the schools on the initial list of 15 were included because they had not responded to the NCAA request for information. If the information is provided, the NCAA could review its findings.

I wouldn't be surprised if the schools had never heard of the NCAA; they probably thought the letters were spam. Four of the schools on the list aren't even in operation (no wonder the NCAA's probings went unanswered!).

So because Darryl Schofield had his paperwork in order, Philly Lutheran avoided the initial guillotine. In fairness, the Post article does indicate that Philly Lutheran is under investigation--and the NCAA has said that more schools will be sanctioned. Why it's taking them so long to rule on Schofield's school, I have no idea.

One last excerpt from the Washington Post:

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."

Lennon then added, "hey, what's that over there?" and made a break for his car.