NCAA will take hard look at prep institutions

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Even vaunted Oak Hill Academy in Virginia is among those on a list the association wants to examine.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Julian Vaughn stands 6-foot-8, boasts a high GPA and is ready to enter one of America's most prestigious basketball factories -- Virginia's Oak Hill Academy.

Nobody, not even the NCAA, can convince Vaughn he's making a mistake.

Even after Oak Hill was placed last week on the list of 22 schools that will have its academic standards under review by the NCAA, Vaughn still intends to enroll there this fall.

"Even if it was on the list of offenders, I'd still want to go," he said. "I have a 3.7 GPA, so I'm really just going there to get my last few credits."

Of course, there's the added attraction of playing basketball for an institution that annually produces some of college basketball's premier prospects. Vaughn hopes to carry on Oak Hill's legacy.

The questions being asked now, though, are more about academics than talent.

Ever since The New York Times exposed University High in Miami, a correspondence school that offered diplomas to students despite having no classes nor instructors and operating almost without supervision, the NCAA has been scrutinizing the standards of nontraditional high schools to identify "diploma mills."

The NCAA has been looking for irregularities such as one-year students, dramatic academic improvements or uncharacteristic classwork patterns.

Jeff Allen, a former Oak Hill player who is transferring to Hargrave Military Academy this fall, appears to fit the model. In one year at Oak Hill, Allen said he made progress academically and fulfilled five core courses toward his college eligibility.

"It was an academic decision," he said, referring to his former school. "It took one year, and it was hard at first. But once I got used to it, it became easier."

There is a risk: Students attending listed schools could lose their freshman eligibility.

NCAA vice president Kevin Lennon said transcripts will continue to be evaluated individually and that students at the listed schools could retain their eligibility if their records show a pattern of academic achievement.

By publicizing the lists, NCAA officials hoped some athletes would reconsider their choices. The early returns are not encouraging.

On Wednesday, 16 schools were added to the list of offenders -- seven of them from Santa Ana, Calif. Twenty-two others, including Oak Hill, face more review over the next year.

And when Vaughn arrived at the Nike All-America Camp on Thursday, he wasn't even aware Oak Hill made the list.

"I didn't hear about it, no," he said. "People can say whatever they want to say, but I've not heard anything bad about their academics. I know a lot of people hate the fact they have a rich basketball tradition, so they'll say whatever they want."

Vaughn isn't the only one with concerns about the NCAA's crackdown.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, winner of the 2003 national championship and a prominent member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, is questioning the process.

He wondered why one school, which he declined to identify, made the list even though it has an enrollment of 300, a principal and a faculty. He also believes the NCAA's new mission poses a dangerous potential for expansion.

"The next thing they're going to do is look at inner-city schools, and we're not supposed to take those kids because it's a bad high school," he said. "Where are we going with this?"

Lennon insisted that would not happen.

Instead, he said the NCAA is looking more closely at schools that do not fall under state oversight, and that if investigators found irregularities at public institutions, the NCAA would notify that state's regulating body.

"Every student will have his records reviewed by the clearinghouse," Lennon said. "What we're trying to do is pick out kids who have miraculous recoveries in their last year. That's the kid that needs to be concerned."

The schools that have been identified span the continent, from North Atlantic Regional in Lewiston, Maine, to Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma, Calif.

Some administrators were surprised to learn of their inclusion. Lt. Gen. John E. Jackson Jr., president of Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, said NCAA officials have neither visited the campus nor expressed specific concerns about the curriculum.

But one common factor is the number of prep schools and Christian schools listed.

"One of the reasons for that is that they are not regulated by state agencies," Lennon said. "You don't see any public schools on the list because they are regulated, so when you have Christian schools or prep schools that aren't regulated, they're more likely to make the list."

Regardless, the risk of losing a year of eligibility does not appear to be changing minds yet.

"I heard a rumor that a lot of kids go down there to qualify, but I don't really know how the academics are there," Vaughn said. "I know the teachers live on campus, like in a dorm, and they give you extra help. I think if a teacher is right there, it would help you a lot."

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