Admissions controversy hits USF

On Nov. 27, the New York Times published an article in which the legitimacy of two USF football players’ high school transcripts was called into question.

The University’s admissions department has answered with change, while the Athletic Department has remained tight-lipped.

The players, brothers and defensive backs Antwane and Antonio Cox, were mentioned in the article as having boosted their GPAs by taking classes at University High School – a private institution in Miami that has come under fire for being an alleged “diploma mill.”

University High is now under inquiry by the Florida High School Athletic Association and the NCAA after the article exposed the school as having no formal classes and a lack of any educational accreditation. The article noted 14 University High graduates who are now members of Division-I football programs and revealed the relative ease with which most of them admittedly completed the school’s curriculum.

Both Antwane and Antonio, two of the 14 mentioned University High alumnae, declined to speak with the Oracle, but Antwane told the New York Times that he raised his GPA from 2.2 to 2.5 at University High.

Athletic Director Doug Woolard, Compliance Director Steve Horton and coach Jim Leavitt would not comment, but running backs coach and Recruiting Coordinator Carl Franks discussed the process, although he would not specifically name who recruited the Cox brothers.

“We bring those transcripts back, and then we have them evaluated,” Franks said.

Franks added that he doesn’t think the players are in danger of losing their eligibility.

“I wouldn’t think so,” Franks said. “But as far as coaches are concerned, that’s really not our decision. Our job is we recruit the players. The school looks at the grades and the test scores.”

Most of the Athletic Department directed questions to the school’s admissions director, J. Robert Spatig.

Spatig discussed the difficulty in evaluating private institutions such as University High. Private schools in the state of Florida do not require an exit examination, and by law, are not regulated.

“By statute, the state of Florida expressly forbids the Department of Education from regulating private education,” Spatig said. “So we’re left to look on a case-by-case basis at students who come from schools other than public ones.”

University High’s case is definitely different.

Stanley J. Simmons, who founded University High School, served 10 months in a federal prison on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud in his involvement with a college diploma mill in Arizona.

The school’s courses consist of packets that resemble study guides, and on the University High Web site,, prospective students are offered a chance to earn a high school diploma for a full payment of $299. For that amount, students can choose to complete 24 hours of credit on one of two study tracks spanning either four to six weeks or three to 12 months.

According to Spatig, the state of Florida allows public schools to admit up to five percent of total enrollment as exceptional cases. An exceptional case is someone who is admitted despite not meeting admissions requirements.

“We admit students who are home schooled who don’t have traditional transcripts,” Spatig said. “We admit students from a wide variety of public and private schools.”

While he would not say whether the Cox brothers were part of the 5 percent, he indicated that there are several students who are not athletes who are on scholarship and were admitted by the 5 percent rule.

Spatig added that during his tenure at three Division-I schools, he has always looked carefully at private schools, and even though Spatig is in his fifth month as head of the admissions department, he has already put plans in motion to handle further instances such as this one.

“What we are doing now, we are looking at – within Board of Governor rules – what our options in terms of looking at accreditation,” Spatig said. “We’re doing some benchmarking of other institutions and I’m going to present a proposal to the enrollment management action team that will ultimately lead to some guidelines on this very issue.”

Spatig just returned from Tallahassee, where the University High issue came up, and he keeps in constant contact with 11 other admissions officers at public schools across the state of Florida.

Attempts to contact University High were unsuccessful, but as of Monday the school was still in operation.

“The scrutiny that University High is getting on a national level is pretty severe,” Spatig said. “If upon getting more information we all decide that this is not a legitimate means of completing a high school degree, then I’m not sure that we’ll see any more students coming from University High.”