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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

NCAA To Tackle Bogus Prep School Problem

The NCAA has announced that it's going to take steps to ensure that diploma mills that come cloaked in the veneer of prep schools but whose sole purpose is to field a top-flight hoops or football team get shut down. This comes after exposes in two different major-city newspapers about schools in Miami and Philadelphia that raised issues about the legitimacy of those institutions.

Now if they could only do something about the pressure to win that the member schools place on the coaches of the teams that are expected to generate significant revenues to help fund the rest of the athletic department and, also, give the school some national glory and brand recognition from time to time. Earlier this year, Iowa State terminated its men's hoops coach, Wayne Morgan, after he was linked to a scandal involving payments to a Los Angeles-area company that funneled players to major colleges. The pressure -- and the dollars -- are huge.

It used to be that you'd go to a school and try out for teams. Football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. You'd play each sport during its natural season, even if you were great at one and bad at the other two. You didn't play one sport all year-round, and you didn't opt to go to a different school that recruited you to go there. These things were extracurricular activities, and, yes, if you were good they could help get you into college and if you were really good they would pay for college by way of an athletic scholarship.

Of course, that paragraph was painted with such a broad brush as to ignore some practical nuances. Some kids get recruited even if they're about as interested in class as Donald Trump is in shaving his head. Some kids get stashed in Bozo majors where they get partial credit for wrong answers on multiple choice tests and get academic credits for playing their sports. Some kids get into the college even if there were issues with their high school courseloads. Yes, the NCAA has a compliance function and yes, each college's athletic department also has one to make sure that the kids who play are eligible. Those compliance programs, though, don't stop the goofy majors that exist and shenanigans that go on to keep kids eligible.

And, up until now, those compliance programs had little if anything to do with the integrity of the institutions who were certifying that kids were actually eligible to get into a four-year school. You can't blame the kids for wanting to get into a four-year school and increase their chances to play for money somewhere. You can blame their parents, coaches, teachers and those who surround college athletics for creating an environment that takes the "extra" out of "extracurricular" and that emphasizes winning and revenues from TV, the post-season, merchandise, ticket sales and concessions over the university's overall mission of educating young people. At some point, adults somewhere have to break the hard news to kids, coaches, alumni, community members, fans and the media that some hotshot might not be ready for the big state university but would be better off working on his academics at a real prep school or at a community college. Would that be so difficult to do?

But what if you're job as A.D. is on the line? Or your job as coach? What if the potential revenues or revenue losses are just too great? How far do you push the envelope? How far do you go to get better players, get them into school and keep them eligible? Don't you just need that one extra kid? Or two?

All of these are fair questions, and no doubt the NCAA will make it tougher for member schools to admit kids who have no business being there in the first place. In doing so, they'll be doing the kids a service and getting them into environments that will care more about them than how good a backcourt a school might have or how good the defensive backfield can be. Sure, some schools might lose out on that one player who could push their program over the top, but it strikes me that those particular schools should stay where they are if they're so dependent on a corruption of the system that seems as epidemic as the NCAA has suggested (the NCAA representative quoted suggested that there are 100-200 prep schools that fit the profile of rogue schools that are more designed to rubber stamp kids into colleges than anything else).

Hats, headbands and helmets off the NCAA for taking a stand. After all, the last time I checked, colleges have athletic departments.

And not the other way around.


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