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NCAA bars BYU online credits for high school athletes

PROVO — The movie "The Blind Side" earned $300 million worldwide, helped Sandra Bullock win an Oscar and made football player Michael Oher a household name.

The book, by Michael Lewis, was a New York Times best seller and introduced millions to BYU's online high school courses. Oher used BYU high school credits to become eligible for the college football scholarship that led to an NFL career.

Current high school athletes may not be able to duplicate Oher's path to college eligibility.

The NCAA said Tuesday it no longer will allow teenagers to use online high school course credit from BYU to beef up their grades in key classes. The NCAA also announced it won't recognize transcripts from the American School correspondence program in Illinois.

The move is part of new NCAA rules that require "regular access and interaction" between teachers and students in the 16 core courses required to establish initial eligibility for new college athletes.

The changes don't affect NCAA Division II schools, but a panel representing them will reconsider the measure in June.

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said the university learned of the change Friday.

"It did come as a surprise to us," she said. "We have some questions that we would like to discuss with the NCAA. We have always had a good relationship with them, and we would like to discuss with them what their standards are and how we can be in compliance."

A time has not yet been established for a discussion with the NCAA, she said.

Jenkins said some of the questions surround the future of currently enrolled Independent Study students who were hoping for Division I eligibility, or those who enroll before Aug. 1, the proposed date for the change, she said.

According to the bestselling book, Oher replaced several F's in high school English by taking BYU "Character Education" courses that merely required Oher to "read a few brief passages from famous works ... and then answer five questions about it." Lewis dubbed the process "the great Mormon grade-grab."

BYU has improved online class testing procedures in recent years at both the secondary and college level. Tests now are switched out, so after one student takes the test and the next student walks in, he is given a different test, thus decreasing cheating.

BYU also began requiring that tests be taken in a certified testing area, Jenkins said.

BYU's Independent Study offers more than 300 accredited online courses, according to its website. The site has a list of NCAA approved high school courses for individuals seeking eligibility for Division II schools.

BYU's Independent Study program had been noted in the past for its role in helping athletes like Oher who have less than stellar academic records.

In 2008, Cottonwood High School defensive lineman Keni Kaufusi reportedly became academically eligible to play football for the University of Utah by making up several credits through BYU's program.

"I think I took some of those courses," said Reno Mahe, a former Brighton High football star who played for BYU and in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles. "I think it's silly that they'd ban that Independent Study. Doing those packets enables a lot of people to graduate from high school. My older sister did it and if she hadn't, she never would have graduated from high school.

"I have a ton of relatives who have taken it and it's helped them. If there is abuse going on, then you have to realize people can abuse or take advantage of anything — it happens."

Several years ago, Jenkins said BYU instituted a policy that prevented college athletes from other schools from taking BYU's university-level Independent Study courses, because of abuses that had taken place.

This restriction applies to students who are currently eligible as well as those seeking eligibility to participate in any collegiate athletic program (e.g. NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA), according to the website.

Contributing: Dick Harmon