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Many Schools Stretch Eligibility Rules Getting Players On Athletic Field Often More Important Than An Education

Lusting for the millions of dollars and publicity that flow to winning programs, many NCAA schools make eligibility - not education - the main goal of athletes, according to a report in The Kansas City Star.

In today’s editions, the newspaper points to Miles Simon, a key member of Arizona’s NCAA championship basketball team last season, as a prime example. Simon has been on academic probation almost his entire playing career.

But Simon was able to remain eligible because of a series of exceptions Arizona made in its own academic policies, possibly in violation of NCAA policy, The Star said, citing documents obtained during an 18-month investigation.

Simon, a guard, is a senior this year and there has been no indication he will be ineligible for the coming season.

NCAA officials said such a rules violation could only be determined through an investigation, and they would not speculate whether they would look into specific cases.

Arizona officials said they did not violate NCAA rules or treat athletes differently from other students.

But the newspaper said documents and interviews show Simon:

Was academically suspended for a time last year after getting a D-minus average one semester. Nonetheless, he was allowed to take at least one class for credit.

Had his suspension rescinded at the request of the director of a university college who later flew with the team on a three-week trip to Australia.

Was allowed to enter one of the university’s schools with a grade-point average far below that which is usually required.

After sitting out 11 games last year - the only playing time he missed for academic reasons - was able to rejoin the Wildcats for their championship run by getting an A in a class in which everyone got an A. Received credit as a junior for a class that the course catalog restricted to freshmen.

Finally, after earning a B in a course he took during the team’s Australia trip this summer, got off probation by bringing his grade-point average up to C.

Any single exception for Simon in itself may not have violated either NCAA rules or University of Arizona rules, which school officials say are flexible enough to allow for exceptions.

However, taken as a whole, the numerous discretionary decisions applied by the university in Simon’s case might violate a bedrock NCAA principle that colleges can’t make academic exceptions to keep athletes eligible.

“There are no exceptions to the NCAA rule that student-athletes are not to be treated differently from an academic perspective than other students,” said Bob Oliver, the NCAA’s expert on academic rules.

Jack Farrell, Arizona’s registrar, said flexible interpretations of university policies are commonly available to other students.

But several faculty members said an athlete given such exceptions clearly would be treated differently from other students. John H. McElroy, an English professor, told of some details of the case, said it constitutes “a level of corruption I hadn’t heard before.”

The Star said Simon declined through school officials to be interviewed.

Dave Knight, chairman of the NCAA cabinet on academics, eligibility and compliance, said he found it “very disturbing” that any student could play basketball despite being on probation three years.