A Glimpse into the Junior College Pipeline

January 8, 2005

The flow of athletes -- especially male basketball players -- between community colleges and Division I sports programs has been a somewhat shadowy and underreported element of the sports landscape for two decades.

When the NCAA adopted Proposition 48 in 1986, toughening the eligibility requirements for freshman athletes, it sent high-school athletes who could not make the cut scurrying to find a place to play. Many of them ended up at two-year colleges, often "friendly" institutions to which they had been directed by Division I coaches who wanted to keep close tabs on them until they regained their NCAA eligibility.

Glimpses into this world are relatively rare, mostly because junior-college sports don't get much attention from sports reporters and are not regulated all that closely by the National Junior College Athletic Association. But the occasional revelations are troubling. Thursday, Barton County Community College announced that it would declare its men's basketball team ineligible for postseason play and cut its men's basketball scholarships for two years in the wake of the federal indictment last month of its former men's basketball coach, Ryan Wolf.

Among other things, federal prosecutors charged Wolf with fraudulently providing federal financial aid to some athletes and producing false information about athletes' academic accomplishments to help them enroll and be eligible to play at four-year colleges, including Brigham Young University and the University of Missouri at Columbia.

Wolf pleaded not guilty to the charges on Thursday.

The U.S. attorney in Wichita, Eric Melgren, said in announcing the indictment last month that the charges against Wolf provide "disturbing insight into what can happen when coaches or educators fail to adhere to the highest principles of ethical behavior and fail to put the educational interests of student athletes first."

Barton's president, Veldon Law, said the college would be "less than honest if we said we didn't face many of the same pressures felt by most colleges" surrounding athletics. "The public pressure to win can often be difficult to manage while trying to pay the most attention to the students' academic needs."

As for the community college's role in the pipeline to Division I, he said: "Each year there are Barton athletes who earn national championships, earn Barton degrees, compete at the highest levels in the NCAA and succeed in the classroom at top universities after transfer. They are proof that the incidents behind the recent indictment reflected on a relatively narrow period of time and only a small portion of the athletic department."

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