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The NCAA: How to succeed by failing

Here's an incredible story by Josh Barr in today's Washington Post, discussing a new trend in NCAA admissions: some college coaches are advising recruits to fail a class. The reason? For students with SAT scores just below the minimum NCAA requirement, it will be easier to make the standard in prep school if they don't graduate from high school in their senior year.

When a student graduates from high school, his GPA is locked in place and can be improved only by taking classes at the school from which he graduated, which is often not possible. However, by not graduating, a student can repeat the 12th grade at any school and can still improve his GPA by retaking classes at any school.

Athletes who fail to meet eligibility standards after graduating from high school typically attend a community college for two years and then transfer to a four-year college, often losing two years of playing eligibility. They also can enroll in a post-graduate prep school program and re-take the SAT in hopes of raising their score. But by failing to graduate, an athlete can try to improve his grades and his test score, making it easier to play at a four-year school a year later without a loss of playing eligibility. The one-year delay also can provide an athlete another year to mature physically.

The math is pretty simple. Suppose you are destined for a D or C in English. Take an F, lose 1 or 2 grade points, and fail to graduate. This gives you the opportunity to go to a "prep school" and recapture those points and more in the forthcoming year. Given the sliding scale for the SAT, the required SAT score for admission drops as you add to your GPA.

This scheme only works for athletes who are just short of the standard and thus not eligible for admission under NCAA rules. But even though the number of students affected is small, the incentive is perverse and harms their education.

The NCAA..... what a trip.