Drake Group Examines College Admissions Cheating Scandal, ‘the Dark Side of Athlete Special Admissions Programs’

May 10, 2019

(The following is a submission of the Drake Group, “a national organization of faculty and others whose mission is to defend educational integrity in higher education from the corrosive aspects of commercialized college sports.”)
Few in college athletics were surprised about the massive higher education admissions scandal that has been exposed over the last week. Most athletic administrators and coaches would describe these incidents of wealthy donors trading cash for privilege as “business as usual.” Athletics long ago institutionalized and publicly advertised what has always been common practice for college presidents and development officers – taking care of major donors and their children. These close relationships between donors and athletic department coaches created the entitlement culture that made this parent bribery admissions scandal successful.
It logically follows that we should not be surprised that both William Singer (founder of a college preparatory business and mastermind of the bribery scheme) and the wealthy donors who anted up millions, were fully knowledgeable of the fact that athletic coaches and administrators controlled special admission slots. Coaches and others will be fired. The IMG Entrance Exam Preparation Director, Mark Riddell, who was the stand-in test-taker, will have his employment terminated. Universities will put the SAT scores of already admitted and applicant IMG Academy students under a microscope – and the NCAA will do the same scrutinizing to determine whether these students really met minimum NCAA academic requirements for freshman eligibility. Will every student whose parents made significant donations to the institution now be viewed with suspicion regarding whether they were specially admitted? The indictments will proceed. Universities will claim lack of knowledge. Admissions offices will now exercise oversight to make sure athlete special admits are really athletes. And, yes, it is highly likely that this chapter will soon pass from the public view.
Dr. David Ridpath and Dr. Gerald Gurney, Past-Presidents of the Drake Group, issued a joint statement: “Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this scandal will be used as an opportunity to put the practice of athlete special admissions under a microscope. Should such an examination occur, institutions would have to admit that such programs are the “original sin” that has precipitated an athletics culture of academic fraud that exploits talented but academically under-prepared athletes and shreds the academic integrity of institutions. Instead, college presidents, directors of admissions and members of boards of trustees will look the other way or, with a wink of the eye, rationalize that such programs benefit mostly underprivileged minority athletes who deserve a chance to benefit from a prestigious degree, benefit from rubbing elbows with successful alumni or help achieve a more racially diverse student body. We should all object to these efforts that advance the stereotype that there are not enough talented minority athletes who are smart enough to meet admissions standards. These perceptions trickle down to our secondary schools and influence the expectations of aspiring athletes.”
It is this culture of academic fraud among the most commercialized athletics programs that produces this Drake Group call for a full and independent examination by Congress of athlete special admissions programs within the context of larger institutional special admissions practices. The Drake Group observes the following in support of this request for careful study:
1. Institutional Special Admissions Programs Must Be Conducted with Integrity. While The Drake Group believes that there are good reasons for higher education institutions to have programs that allows for academic admission standards exceptions, we believe they must be subject to the following conditions designed to ensure the integrity of these programs:
Goals of the program are transparent and permits applications from anyone meeting such goals;
Institutions establish and make transparent a percentage limit of the incoming class who will be specially admitted;
The program accommodates students with medical or testing disabilities or other extenuating circumstances related to admissions standards being waived;
A committee of tenured faculty (as opposed to administrators or coaches) is responsible for ensuring that applicants are adequately prepared to compete in the classroom and that evidence exists to verify their membership in the special class;[1]
No single program, academic or athletic, should dominate use of an institution’s special admissions capacity and the percentages of such groups being advantaged by special admissions should be published. Generally, with regard to athletes, their percentage in such a program should be commensurate with their proportion in the student body.
If any specially admitted student, athlete or otherwise, is admitted with an academic profile more than one standard deviation below the average GPA/SAT/ACT of the previous year’s class, such student should be mandated to complete a remediation plan.[2]
2. Uncontrolled Athlete Special Admissions Lead to Commonplace Unethical Practices. A common practice among Division I institutions is to allow admission standards exceptions for an inordinate number of academically underprepared athletes who are unable to compete with better prepared students[3] in the classroom, resulting in one or more of the following exploitive and unethical practices as commonplace occurrences:
extreme clustering of high-risk athletes in academic majors without academic rigor designed to maintain eligibility and retention[4];
hiring learning specialists to suspiciously document such athletes as being learning disabled[5];
placement of athletes in less demanding courses or professors known to be friendly to athletes;
overrepresentation of athletes in independent study courses taught by professors who give high grades for limited work;
tutors, instead of athletes, producing class assignments;
documented failures in reporting plagiarism by athletes; and
significantly lower graduation rates in revenue producing sports and among African-American athletes participating in those sports.
Yet, the NCAA maintains it does not have the authority to punish such academic fraud because of actions taken in 2014 that defined this as an area of institutional self-policing.[6]
3. Lower Athlete Academic Standards Increase Pressures that Produce Academic Fraud. Admitting talented athletes without regard to academic preparation and the desire to play talented athletes immediately has pressured the NCAA to maintain freshman eligibility and resulted in NCAA eligibility rules changes that lowered the minimum academic requirements for freshmen and imposed penalties on teams and colleges whose athletes do not make consistent progress toward a degree. These lower standards have only resulted in increasing pressures on athletic departments, some at the nation’s most selective and prestigious institutions of higher education, to engage in academic fraud.[7]
4. Public is Being Deceived by NCAA Graduation Success Rates. The result of admitting academically under prepared athletes has resulted in embarrassing graduation rates in Division I football and basketball in particular (which are not publicized by the NCAA or its institutions), sports in which the majority of special admissions are granted. In turn, these low graduation rates created the impetus for the NCAA to develop a Graduation Success Rate metric that produces rates 15-20% higher than Federal Graduation Rates, cannot be compared with non-athlete students and which is statistically invalid. This purposeful “sleight of hand” to effectively hide true graduation rates reveals the NCAA’s complicity in deceiving the public with regard to the academic success of college athletes.
5. Blatant Conflict of Interest When Athletic Departments Control Athlete Academic Support Programs. The academic plight of under prepared and specially admitted athletes has created the impetus for athletic departments to take over responsibility for athlete academic support and advising programs – a direct conflict of interest. These programs must be administered by the Office of the Provost and the faculty to protect their integrity. Tutors and academic support staff working for the athletic department are too easily accessible to coaches and other athletic personnel who are expert in sending direct and not so veiled messages about the importance of athletes remaining eligible to compete. These programs are operated out of sight of the faculty in athletes-only academic support, study hall and computer centers facilities, often lavishly appointed because they are used as recruiting enticements.
6. Failure of NCAA to Act to Prevent Academic Fraud. The NCAA has failed to take decisive action to prevent academic fraud and improprieties.
In 2011, it eliminated the Division I peer review certification program which carefully examined the academic practices of member institution related to their athletic programs.
The NCAA does not require its member institutions to give whistle-blower protection to those who report academic fraud.
The NCAA has failed to propose the simple mechanism which could easily be a condition of membership, that every member institution should have a tenured-faculty-only Committee on Academic Oversight elected by the faculty senate or other highest faculty authority, which would have the responsibility to annually review the academic progress of all athletes. Such a committee could be required to annually report to the faculty senate (or other highest faculty authority) on the academic progress and qualifications of college athletes and, when possible, to compare such data to non-athletes, including average SAT and ACT scores by sport, Federal Graduation Rates by sport, Graduation Success Rates by sport, independent studies taken by sport, a list of professors offering the independent studies and their average grade assigned, admissions profiles, athletes’ progress toward a degree, trends in selected majors by sport, average grade distributions of faculty by major, incomplete grades by sport, grade changes by professors, and the name of each athlete’s faculty advisor.
The NCAA has failed to issue an annual public athletics academic integrity report to include the following data for each member institution (which would provide a strong impetus for reform among institutions failing to educate their athletes): graduation success rate for all athletes overall, athletes by sport, and for all athletes admitted with a waiver of normal institutional admissions standards;
federal graduation rate for all students overall, all athletes overall, athletes by sport and for all athletes admitted with a waiver of admissions standards;
academic progress rate by sport for each member institution;
number of recruited athletes admitted to the institution with a waiver of published admissions standards compared to the number of students overall receiving such admissions; and
whether any team was ineligible for Association championships due to deficiencies in academic performance, disciplinary or other reasons.
Drs. Ridpath and Gurney concluded, “Neither the NCAA nor its member institutions will act to address the dark side of athlete special admissions or the academic integrity of athletic programs. Likewise, education leaders will continue to look the other way in order to avoid confronting powerful athletics interests. It is time for Congress to seriously examine the need for intercollegiate athletics reform.”
[1] The public should note that a simple check was available for the imposter athletes involved in this admissions scandal – checking with the NCAA Eligibility Center.
[2] Because of the time demands of athletics, The Drake Group maintains that athletes below the one standard deviation level should be ineligible as freshmen and limited to no more than 10 hours per week of athletics related practice or other activities in addition to being required to complete a remediation plan. See Drake position papers on athlete time demands and academic integrity at https://thedrakegroup.org/policy-positions/
[3] Winters, C. and Gurney, G. (2012) Academic preparation of specially admitted student-athletes: A question of basic skills. College and University, vol. 88, no. 2, fall 2012). Retrieve at: http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ995761
[4] Sports Business Daily. (2008) Editorial: Colleges push athletes down easy path to maintain eligibility (November 19, 2008). Retrieve at: http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2008/11/Issue-47/Collegiate-Sports/Colleges-Push-Athletes-Down-Easy-Path-To-Maintain-Eligibility.aspx
[5] Farrey, T. (December 18, 2009) Seminoles Helped by LD Diagnoses. ESPN.com. Retrieve at http://www.espn.com/espn/otl/news/story?id=4737281
[6] The failure of the NCAA to sanction the University of North Carolina for 18 years of fraudulent academic practices benefitting athletes was highly criticized. UNC operated a shadow curriculum of fake and illegitimate courses for 18 years that were used by academic advisors first and foremost to keep athletes eligible. No reasonable person seeing one UNC faculty member assigned to oversee 200 “independent study” students per semester would categorize this as anything other than academic fraud. UNC also failed to cooperate with the NCAA’s investigation, an NCAA membership obligation. UNC’s accreditation agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), also “dropped the ball,” handing UNC a penalty of only one year on probation.
[7] Some of which are: University of North Carolina, see http://www.cbssports.com/collegebasketball/eye-on-college-basketball/24601838/ncaa-will-re-open-academic-fraud-investigation-at-north-carolina; University of Notre Dame, see http://online.wsj.com/articles/is-notre-dame-football-too-demanding-1408726455 or http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/16/us/notre-dame-academic-fraud-investigation/ ; Harvard, see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/sports/ncaabasketball/harvard-cheating-scandal-revives-debate-over-athletics.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0; East Carolina University, see http://www.ecu.edu/cs-admin/news/ncaa.cfm; Louisiana State University, see http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail-pf.php?n=194999, Florida State University, see http://www.tomahawknation.com/2010/2/7/1299742/fsus-academic-fraud-scandal; University of Southern California, see http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jun/10/sports/la-sp-0611-ncaa-sanctions-chart-20100611; Oklahoma State University, see http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000241950/article/dez-bryant-accused-of-academic-fraud-at-oklahoma-state


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