THE WATCHDOGS: Year after scandal cost Curie city title, CPS fails at basketball eligibility reforms

SHARE THE WATCHDOGS: Year after scandal cost Curie city title, CPS fails at basketball eligibility reforms
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Simeon coach Rob Smith (left) and Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin (right) exchanging eligibility sheets before Dec. 14’s “Battle of Vincennes” game. | Patrick Gleason / Sun-Times

A year after promising reforms in the wake of a scandal that cost Curie Metro High School its city boys basketball title, Chicago Public Schools officials can’t say for sure whether players participating in most games this past season were academically eligible, a Chicago Sun-Times investigation has found.

The school system’s oversight of the promised fixes is in such disarray that officials can’t even find the eligibility sheets that Simeon coach Robert Smith and Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin exchanged on court before Dec. 14’s “Battle of Vincennes” between the two basketball powerhouses. The crowd witnessing that exchange included a Sun-Times reporter and a photographer who captured the moment.

The two respected, longtime coaches say they later turned in the sheets, as required.

Smith said he submitted an eligibility sheet for each of his team’s games after CPS officials said they would require that after stripping Curie of its 2013-2014 city title following an investigation that found the Southwest Side school hadn’t submitted the documents proving players were academically eligible.

“They made our athletic director send every last one in,” Smith said. “They called the schools and had all the ADs send in all the eligibility sheets. It has to be there. We sent them in.”

But, asked for copies of the eligibility sheets, CPS officials couldn’t provide them for that high-profile game.

Nor could they provide them for most of the 480 games on the Chicago Public League conference schedule this past season. There should have been one sheet from each of the two teams in each game. But CPS could provide only 147 identifiable eligibility sheets — just 15 percent of what it should have.

And many of them were undated and incomplete.

For post-season playoffs, CPS could provide only five sheets of the 64 it should have on file under its rules, which officials vowed to enforce after taking the title from Curie.

And it had Central Office Records Sheets — submitted at the start of the season listing eligible players — for only 19 of CPS’ 96 boys varsity basketball teams.

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CPS’ sports administration office is required by the school system’s bylaws to have computer-generated eligibility sheets on file for each team for every game.

Last year, officials promised to enforce that rule after a tip called their attention to the fact that Curie’s player eligibility records were incomplete.

After Curie’s city title was taken away, a Sun-Times investigation found CPS officials couldn’t say whether players on most teams were academically eligible during the 2013-2014 season.

“It just goes to show it wasn’t us,” Curie boys basketball coach Mike Oliver said of the new findings. “It is the system, the sports administration. How can they go a whole year and not keep checking up on this? It is unbelievable that it is the same issue as last year.”

CPS officials say they had people monitoring eligibility this basketball season and verifying that players in each playoff game were eligible, even though they can’t prove it.

Vince Carter, the coach at Von Steuben Metropolitan Science High School on the North Side, said coaches knew they needed to show their players were eligible.

“Coaches were way more cognizant of it after what happened last year,” Carter said, “at least about exchanging the sheet.

“Now, I don’t know what happens to the sheet after that because it goes through so many hands,” he said. “We give it to our athletic director, who is supposed to put it in the mail run to send it downtown. Who files it from there? It is ridiculous that we are dealing with paper.”

CPS officials didn’t have an explanation for why they don’t have most of the eligibility records they should have. But they vowed to do better next year, starting by putting a digital reporting system in place, rather than paper.

“The district has taken steps to improve eligibility compliance across the district, but we recognize there is still work to be done,” CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said. “CPS continues to streamline and enhance its eligibility-monitoring system to ensure the proper records are maintained.”

Only one Chicago high school got all of its conference-game eligibility sheets filed with CPS this year and last — North-Grand High School on the city’s Northwest Side. North-Grand boys basketball coach Anthony Ramos said coaches carry a big share of the blame this year.

“It’s a little disappointing that, after the fiasco that happened last year, the other coaches didn’t jump on board and take care of this issue,” Ramos said.

But whether it’s coaches or administrators in schools or downtown who failed, it sends the wrong message to students, Ramos said.

“If we are going to impact these kids on a real level, we are going to lead by example,” he said. “If I am going to ask them to pay attention to details and their grades, then I have to pay attention to details.”

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