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Enforcement staff leads academic integrity summit

Coaches, athletics administrators discuss how to prevent misuse of online classes among transfers

Academic integrity education, particularly for new coaches and athletics staff. A checklist that empowers compliance officers to review a prospective student-athlete’s online class history. A protocol an athletics department can follow when signing a student-athlete whose transcript includes online courses required for athletics participation.

These and other possible methods for preventing academic misconduct emerged Wednesday from an academic integrity summit organized by the NCAA enforcement staff. At the summit, a selection of Division I coaches, faculty members, athletics administrators, compliance officers and academic advisors for athletics gathered for a frank discussion about a troubling trend: NCAA rules violations involving transfer students who use online courses to qualify for NCAA competition.

The enforcement summit was the first of its kind and was designed to help schools manage a recurring issue the enforcement staff has identified as problematic.

“Member schools and the enforcement staff feel strongly about academic preparedness and success of student-athletes,” said Jon Duncan, NCAA vice president of enforcement. “As our staff sees continued challenges to academic integrity, we welcome the opportunity to work together to brainstorm solutions. That was the goal today, and that’s what happened.”

Enforcement staff will take the recommendations and develop them into proposed best practices. Those will be presented to the two dozen summit attendees in the coming weeks for further refinement. The enforcement staff also plans to create educational materials for various audiences at member schools.

Between April 2014 and March 2017, the NCAA enforcement staff brought 16 cases of academic misconduct — or 10 percent of all enforcement cases in that period — before the Division I Committee on Infractions. Of the 11 academic misconduct cases the committee has resolved so far, seven involved prospective student-athletes earning academic credit through fraudulent online courses.

Katherine Sulentic, NCAA associate director of academic integrity, told summit attendees that college and university representatives investigated for academic misconduct have misused online courses for transfer students in a number of ways. Rules violations occur when coaches or athletics staff complete a prospective college athlete’s coursework in an online class, pay for a course or find a third party to pay for it, among other scenarios.

The academic integrity unit, composed of eight people on the NCAA enforcement staff, is dedicated to investigating and preventing academic misconduct — everything from student-to-student plagiarism to test score fraud to coaches or tutors writing papers for students. Sulentic asked the summit attendees assembled Wednesday to think broadly about one of those issues: how to attack the problem of schools misusing online courses for transferring student-athletes.

“There are no bad ideas today,” Sulentic told the group Wednesday morning. “I don’t want to hold anything back. We don’t have something perfect in our minds, so we’re truly interested in everything you have to say. Feel free to be open and share the ideas you have.”

The attendees identified red flags that can indicate possible problems with an online course on a student-athlete’s transcript. Perhaps a student with a C average receives high grades on two online courses in six weeks before enrolling at a school that wants to place him on a sports roster, and those courses are classes he needs to earn admission to the school. In another scenario, a coach who is new to a program and needs to fill several roster spots might occupy them with transfer students whose transcripts carry a grade from an online course at a school several states away.

“We looked forward to this summit, and we are pleased with the active engagement by all participants,” Duncan said. “We really appreciate the candid discussion and exchange of great ideas.”