NCAA tries to crack down on 'diploma mills'

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NCAA will no longer accept transcripts from 15 nontraditional high schools, including one in Florida with a Web site that promises students an opportunity to earn a diploma in weeks.

Others include an institution in Maine that offers home schooling and one in Pennsylvania whose charter was revoked by the state three years ago.

Other schools are still being investigated and could face similar sanctions by the NCAA in an attempt to deal with so-called "diploma mills" whose graduates seek athletic scholarships to
college. An NCAA spokesman last week said some cases involved abuse and even fraud in academic standards.

Goliath Academy of Miami Lakes, which offers correspondence and online courses, was among four Florida schools identified with questionable academic credentials Wednesday by the NCAA initial-eligibility clearinghouse. A telephone message seeking comment from Goliath was not immediately returned.

The NCAA board of directors in April gave the association authority to look into the schools' standards, including the examination of individual transcripts. The investigation was
accelerated after a New York Times story on University High School, a Miami correspondence school that had no classes or instructors and operated almost without supervision.

A telephone number for University has been disconnected, as has one for American Academy of Miami, which is also on the NCAA list.

The North Atlantic Regional High School in Lewiston, Maine, is also on the list and has been notified of the NCAA's action, school founder Steve Moitozo said.

"They want students who have put in seat time at the school, and our students are home-schooled," said Moitozo, a Baptist minister who founded the school in the 1980s as an offshoot of a support group for families of home-schooled children. "We have state-certified teachers who review their work, but they don't have seat time."

Moitozo, whose school claims about 2,400 students, said he would not fight the NCAA's action.

"We fought for home-schooling for years and we got that, but this is between them and the family," he said. "It's just not that big a deal to us."

Among others on the initial NCAA list is Einstein Charter School of Morrisville, Pa., whose charter was revoked in 2003 and subsequently lost an appeal to the state. Another school is
Celestial Prep of Philadelphia, whose former students include Keith Butler, who later played basketball at Temple, and Omar Williams, who played at George Washington.

The NCAA listing is not retroactive, meaning it won't affect any players already enrolled in college.

More than two dozen other high schools are under review.

"Failure to provide a response to the questions will result in a school being invalidated for use in the initial-eligibility process," the NCAA said. "In addition, onsite visits have been
conducted at some high schools to supplement the information considered in the review."

Most of the schools on the initial list of 15 were included because they had not responded to the NCAA request for information. If the information is provided, the NCAA may review its findings.

But a lawyer representing some of the schools said last week the NCAA does not have legal authority to dictate standards for schools that already operate under state sanction.

"Don't get me wrong. There are some schools like that that need to be closed," attorney Don Jackson of Montgomery, Ala., said. "But the problem is, what they are doing now is going in and trying to kill a flea with an atomic bomb. They're going to impact a lot of schools that shouldn't be affected."