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Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Dreamcatcher: University High School to Abruptly Close on Dec. 31

This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.

Well, at least they came to University High School for a while. As we discussed last month, University High School in Miami has served as an academic field of dreams for many high school football players who sought to pave their way to college football scholarships by taking high school courses in which they knew that if they studied hard and gave it their all, they would do well. The problem was that they also know that if they didn't study--at all--they could simply look up the answers in the back of the book and get straight As. And they didn't have to show up to class either, because there were no classes. All they needed was $399 and the ability to look up answers in the back of the book. Colleges didn't care, because they knew these football players would make a lot of money for them and the NCAA in ticket sales, merchandise, and videogame licensing deals (which, I suspect, is the same reason why the NCAA happened to overlook this racket until the New York Times exposed it last month). It worked great for everyone -- at least until too many University High grads showed up at places like Auburn and Florida State and couldn't handle the work (not surprising, since they couldn't handle high school work).

And therein lies the problem for the University High School, which has become a too-obvious haven for colleges seeking premiere high school talent, but talent that could not do well in legitimate high school settings. Until the New York Times' exposé, however, University High School had prospered as a place where GPAs could somehow rise from failing to spectacular in the span of a month, and where colleges could nominally satisfy NCAA requirements in dispensing scholarships to top athletes.

But under increasing pressure from both creditors and Florida law enforcement officials, University High decided last week to close its doors this Saturday. Duff Wilson of the New York Times has the story. Here are some excerpts:
University High School, a correspondence school in Miami being investigated for giving fast, high grades to qualify high school athletes for college scholarships, is going out of business Dec. 31, its founder, Stanley J. Simmons, said yesterday.

"It's a disaster," Simmons, 75, said in a telephone interview from his Miami home. "I'm finishing up everything, and I'm going back into retirement."

The National Collegiate Athletic Association yesterday named 17 people to a panel to study correspondence high schools and other nontraditional routes to college athletic eligibility and scholarships. The move is a response to questions about the legitimacy of the academic credentials of some high school athletes . . .

Simmons, who founded the school in 2000, said he had sold it about 14 months ago to Michael R. Kinney, 27, of Miami, who had operated it for him for years. Simmons said Kinney defaulted on his monthly payment after The Times wrote about the school last month, prompting state investigations.

Simmons said the school was "totally mismanaged - probably more than mismanaged" - and also that Kinney was responsible for the venture to help high school athletes qualify for N.C.A.A. scholarships. "There's no way that I would consider remaining in the business," Simmons said.

Simmons wrote a letter for the remaining students, telling them to pay their fees and finish their tests before Dec. 31. The letter concluded, in all upper-case letters, "If you are serious about receiving your high school diploma, we recommend that you act now!"

Not so good times at University High.

Hat Tip: Sports Law Blog reader Lance Mixon for alerting me to this story.

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