As the National Collegiate Athletic Association unveiled a new panel  to examine how the growth of "nontraditional" high schools and other changes in secondary education might undermine its academic eligibility rules, representatives of a correspondence school accused of helping athletes become eligible through questionable means  said it planned to shut down.
The New York Times reported Saturday  (free registration required) that University High School, through which more a dozen athletes have reportedly gained NCAA eligibility  in recent years (without taking any in-person classes) after struggling academically at their original high schools, would close at year's end.
Concerns about University High prompted officials of the Southeastern Conference to write the NCAA  last month asking its officials to review some of the association's policies governing the academic eligibility of high school athletes. Several athletes who had received their degrees from University High applied to universities in the Southeastern Conference, and its officials said they believed the issue warranted national attention.
"If a large number of high profile student-athletes establish their initial eligibility through questionable means, the potential impact on NCAA academic reform efforts will be significant," Michael F. Adams, president of the University of Georgia, and Michael L. Slive, commissioner of the SEC, said in their letter to Myles Brand, the NCAA's president.
On Friday, Brand said  that a new panel of sports officials and educators would examine the implications of "recent trends in secondary-school education" -- including the growth of nontraditional schools, many of which have emerged to serve home schooled students, and the proliferation of preparatory schools that focus on elite athletes -- on NCAA rules.
The NCAA has altered its academic requirements for freshman athletes in the last two years to diminish the significance of standardized tests (because of concerns that the tests discriminate against minority students) and put more weight on high school core courses.
Brand said the panel would explore four main areas:
- The process for reviewing and approving nontraditional courses (including correspondence courses) for use as NCAA core courses.
- NCAA core-course requirements and time limitations on meeting those requirements in Divisions I and II.
- The requirements for reporting ACT and SAT scores to the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse (which determines whether high school athletes have met the NCAA's academic standards for freshemn) and those requirements’ potential impact on test-score fraud.
- The use of core courses earned at preparatory schools and whether those courses meet NCAA minimum academic requirements.
"The goal of this working group is to find ways for the NCAA to review high school credentials and exclude course work from proven diploma-mill high schools,” said Brand said. “However, we cannot solve this problem alone. State government has the responsibility to assure that all students -- including student-athletes -- receive legitimate secondary education. To the extent that correspondence schools use the mills or otherwise cross state boundaries, it is a matter for the federal government.”
The members of the new NCAA panel, which is expected to offer recommendations by June, are:
- Mike Alden, director of athletics, University of Missouri at Columbia
- Dick Baddour, director of athletics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Thurston Banks, faculty athletic representative and associate professor of biochemistry, Tennessee Tech University
- Drew Bogner, president, Molloy College
- Jim Castaneda, faculty athletic representative and professor of Spanish, Rice University
- Jim Haney, executive director, National Association of Basketball Coaches
- Jay Helman, president, Western State College
- Carol Iwaoka, associate commissioner, Big Ten Conference
- Robert Kanaby, director, National Federation of State High School Associations
- Kevin Lennon, vice president for membership services, NCAA
- Judith Leonard, vice president for legal affairs and general counsel, University of Arizona
- Mary Lisko, faculty athletic representative and assistant dean and director of undergraduate advising, Augusta State University
- Bernard Machen, president, University of Florida
- Dan Ross, commissioner, Ohio High School Athletic Association
- Greg Sankey, associate commissioner, Southeastern Conference
- Calvin R. Symons, director, NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse
- Grant Teaff, executive director, American Football Coaches Association
- Charlie Whitcomb, vice provost for academic administration and personnel, San Jose State University