Survey results prompt closer watch of tutors

Published: Monday, January 13, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 3, 2003 at 2:57 p.m.

The University of Florida recently contacted the NCAA and expanded a survey of its student-athletes after one Gator indicated knowing about a possible case of academic fraud.

UF officials stressed that their actions were prompted by just a single, one-word answer to a question in an anonymous survey of 30 student-athletes, and the student-athlete may well have misunderstood the query.

And contact was made with the NCAA only as a courtesy, they added.

Still, "it has gotten people's attention," according to Jamie McCloskey, UF's associate athletic director for NCAA compliance.

The question, posed to a sampling of student-athletes in the spring, was, "Do you know of any tutors that have completed assignments for other athletes?"

The answer on one of the surveys was "Yes," scrawled in large cursive letters.

The 29 others surveyed wrote "No" in answer to that question, as well as others such as, "Has a tutor or a coach ever done academic work for you?"

It's possible the student-athlete may have misunderstood the question, said Dave Bloomquist, the chairman of the Intercollegiate Athletic Committee, a faculty watchdog group that issued the surveys.

But the mere suggestion that one of the 60 or so tutors hired each year to help student-athletes might be committing academic fraud sends chills through University of Florida Athletic Association officials.

That's because in the past three years, substantiated allegations of academic fraud involving tutors, coaches and even professors have brought NCAA sanctions down on the University of Alabama, University of Minnesota, University of Kentucky, University of Southern California and University of California at Berkeley, among others.

Scholarships have been taken away and programs banned from postseason play for circumstances where coaches, tutors or counselors wrote papers or did other classwork for students, and one situation where a professor falsified grades for students who never came to class.

"This is a critical issue because before where you may have had a booster outside doing something they shouldn't have done, or an overzealous coach, now you're talking about the academic integrity of the institution," McCloskey said.

So when one of the Intercollegiate Athletic Committee surveys came back suggesting a tutor had helped a student-athlete cheat, "The ex-officio members of the committee were very concerned about it, like (Athletic Director) Jeremy Foley and (Associate Athletic Director for Academic Affairs) Keith Carodine," Bloomquist said.

"They said, 'We really have to check into this,' " he said.

McCloskey said he called NCAA Enforcement Director David Didion and told him about the survey result and about UF's plans to check into it. McCloskey said he wasn't required to by NCAA rules, because he didn't have specific knowledge of an infraction.

"It's more to make him aware of what we have and let them know what we're doing," McCloskey said.

Back to drawing board

UF did several things in reaction to that one troubling survey response, including expanding the survey, rewording it to make it more detailed, and sending it to all the student-athletes who use tutors.

Last month, more than 100 student-athletes were surveyed, and those responses have just begun trickling in.

So far, there haven't been any more charges of cheating. But, like the first survey, some student-athletes have said they don't know the rules for what a tutor can or can't do.

After several spring surveys came back saying student-athletes weren't sure about the rules, UF developed a brochure outlining what tutors are allowed to do and what they aren't.

For instance, according to the brochure, tutors are prohibited from typing papers for student-athletes, not to mention doing their homework assignments or assisting with their take-home exams.

UF also brought in attorney and private consultant Mike Glasier, who helped Texas Tech and LSU navigate their academic fraud issues with the NCAA and helped UF, most recently, with its handling of the gambling allegations against former Gator basketball player Teddy Dupay.

In his October visit, Glasier met with administrators, advisers, coaches and tutors and made suggestions about how to strengthen the education and oversight of tutoring rules.

He plans to come back this month to review the results of the fall survey.

A former NCAA compliance officer, Glasier said in the past five years, 90 percent of the NCAA violations cases he's seen have involved some type of academic fraud, whereas in the previous 15 years it was relatively rare.

"I wouldn't suggest it's because it's just now begun to happen," Glazier said. "It's because there's a greater sensitivity to these issues."

The NCAA recently signaled that its attention to academic issues will not be short-lived by appointing Myles Brand, the former president at Oregon and Indiana who is the first sitting university president chosen to head the organization.

In newspaper interviews published on Sunday - the NCAA kicked off its annual convention Saturday - Brand said punishment "should have teeth" for universities and colleges that are not providing proper academic opportunities to their student-athletes.

The NCAA is expected to put more emphasis on academic accountability and graduation rates under Brand, who is best known for firing Bob Knight as the Hoosiers' basketball coach in 2000 after Knight violated the school's zero-tolerance policy.

While UF has had its share of sanctions for other things, Foley said he's proud of its record on academic fraud issues.

McCloskey said in the 11 years he's been at UF, the school hasn't had an NCAA violation for academic fraud or even one player declared ineligible for cheating.

But if the NCAA didn't find academic fraud at UF in the Charley Pell era, "It's not that it was not there," said Dr. Nick Cassisi, UF's longtime faculty representative to the NCAA.

Pell was UF's head football coach from 1979 to 1984.

Cassisi, who is also UF's faculty representative to the SEC, said he remembers the bad old days.

"Yeah, there's no question that the academic part of the athletic association was not as good (in the 1980s)," Cassisi said. "In those days, the coaches were interested in the athlete part and not the student part."

"(Student-athletes) would come here and get degrees and then ended up driving trucks.

"But that doesn't happen anymore," Cassisi said. "Now I see student-athletes who aren't good enough to get to the next level (playing pro sports) and they get a degree, learn how to interact with people and develop skills they never would have otherwise."

Foley said there's no guarantee that cheating is not going to occur and that the area of tutoring may be where all schools are the most vulnerable because it's hard to oversee.

"I'm not going to sit here and say that could never happen here," he added. "Anything could happen here, though we work like heck to prevent it from happening.

"We're trying to be proactive," Foley said.

"If you sit here and cover your eyes and say, 'Boy, I hope that never happens here,' and it's happened somewhere else, you're pretty stupid, right?"

Cassisi said UF needs to take a hard look at its program, "and we need everybody else to know we're looking."

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