After years of questions over whether athletes across the country were cheating on them, the NCAA said Tuesday it will no longer accept Brigham Young University's online courses.
The NCAA in its announcement framed the prohibition as part of a larger effort to clamp down on online or mailed-correspondence courses taken by athletes. But for the moment, the NCAA is only banning online courses from BYU and one other institution, the Illinois-based American School.
The NCAA, in the press release on its website, said BYU and American School were "two of the programs most frequently submitted to the NCAA Eligibility Center."
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said the NCAA notified BYU of its decision Friday. Administrators there were surprised, Jenkins said, and want to put BYU's online courses back in compliance.
"We do have some questions we want to pose to the NCAA," Jenkins said. "We've always had a good relationship with the NCAA and hope to be able to address those questions with them soon."
The prohibition goes into effect Aug. 1. Courses completed before then will be considered on a case-by-case basis, the NCAA said.
In 2006, The Salt Lake Tribune reported how an unknown number of high school and transferring athletes have taken online courses to become eligible to play Division I college sports. The students typically need credits in subjects like math or English or need to increase their grade point average.
Some of those athletes and their suitors or coaches have been caught cheating, especially with BYU correspondence.
One of the best-known cases remains that of Ricky Clemons, who took nine credit hours from BYU as part of 24 credit hours he completed from three schools in the summer of 2002. Clemons was a high school dropout who was trying to get eligible to play basketball at the University of Missouri. Students trying to get or stay eligible to play sports at the University of Kansas, University of Mississippi and Nicholls State University also have been found to have improperly taken BYU correspondence courses. In the case of Nicholls State, some athletes didn't know coaches enrolled them in the BYU courses.
Rules passed last month by the NCAA require students and instructors to have "regular access and interaction."
"Students cannot teach themselves, and they cannot pace themselves," NCAA spokesman Chuck Wynne told the Associated Press. "The courses need to have a certain amount of rigor."
Jenkins said the NCAA did not cite any specific reasons for the ban. As BYU has become aware of cheating problems in its online courses in recent years, the university has placed tighter controls on the tests it administers and prohibited current college athletes from enrolling in online courses.
The NCAA's ban on BYU online courses drew concern Tuesday night from Kadie Otto, a former president of The Drake Group, a collection of professors advocating for improved academics for college athletes. Otto said if the NCAA is singling out BYU and American School, the NCAA will have to sort through the dozens of other institutions offering such courses.
"As far as we knew up to this point, [the NCAA wasn't] making judgement on curriculum issues," said Otto, who also is an associate professor of sports management at Western Carolina University. "That's a big deal. The integrity of the curriculum has always been in the hands of the faculty."
BYU football » "A lot has been blown out of proportion," former BYU coach LaVell Edwards said about ex-Cougars quarterback Jim McMahon. "There is no question he had some issues. But I have dealt with a lot worse over the years."
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