Basketball factories are disgrace to education, game
Posted: Wednesday March 1, 2006 10:18AM; Updated: Wednesday March 1, 2006 11:24AM
The latest reminder that much of the feeder system for big-time college sports is your basic festering cesspool of unethical slimeballs came last week from The New York Times, which documented in depressing detail the proliferation of sham prep schools that give academically deficient basketball players an easy way to enhance their transcripts and become eligible to play in college.
Most of these so-called schools don't teach anything besides how to qualify for a Division I scholarship without worrying about such trivial matters as an actual high school education. The Times revealed that dozens of players had pumped up their academic standing by attending such esteemed centers of learning as:
Lutheran Christian in Philadelphia, where three former student-athletes admit that they weren't required to go to class, and the only instructor was their basketball coach. One of those students told the Times that he was given B's in five core courses despite never attending a class or taking a test.
Boys to Men Academy (we're not kidding) in Chicago, where the entire student body consists of 16 basketball players who earn credit for the equivalent of eight core courses by studying online through a correspondence school.
Redemption Christian Academy in Troy, N.Y., where the less-than-rigorous curriculum included spelling class. No word on whether the "faculty" there can spell academic fraud.
Institutions like these are popping up around the country, basically handing out grades as gifts to any high school player who needs them. They are taking advantage of the NCAA's failure to closely monitor the private schools from which players earn academic credits, and the willingness of some Division I programs to accept recruits from these diploma mills with no questions asked. Alabama, Arkansas, George Washington, Georgetown, Mississippi State, Oklahoma State and UTEP are among the schools that have brought in recruits from highly questionable high schools.
It's safe to say that none of these sham schools are producing many candidates for the Dean's List, but they have some pretty impressive basketball teams. Some of these institutions have formed a league that is seeking a shoe contract and a television deal, and their teams play in tournaments in which college coaches are charged $100 or more for booklets of information about the players. So the "schools" make money, the players get the grades they need for college eligibility and the colleges get players who otherwise might not have gotten past the admissions department. And all it costs is the integrity of everyone involved.
It's not exactly a news flash that some players and programs are more interested in eligibility than education, but phony schools like these are such blatant attempts to circumvent NCAA rules that it's astonishing. Even worse, it's generally the students who are most in need of academic attention who are the ones being fed into a system that virtually ignores that need. It used to be that athletes didn't get exploited until they got to college. Now it starts before they even get there.
The players bear some responsibility, of course, but most of the blame for this mess falls on those who should know better -- the supposed educators who establish the diploma mills, the college programs who support them, and the NCAA, which has fallen down on its job of determining the difference between legitimate private schools and fraudulent ones.
The NCAA says a crackdown is coming. The organization has a task force, which promises to flush out the schools that are abusing the system. In the meantime, college coaches can help put a stop to this kind of fraud by steering clear of players who come out of the bogus schools.
Coaches are quick to complain about what they consider to be unfair academic requirements, about tests like the SAT being biased against players from disadvantaged backgrounds. They may have a point, but they would add to their credibility if they were as vocal in their objection to phony schools that churn out good players but poor students. These schools may not offer many exams to their students, but they are putting the values of college basketball programs to a stern test.