A week after Curie High School won the city basketball championship, a Chicago Public Schools investigation revealed that seven Curie basketball players had been ineligible for the entire season because the correct paperwork hadn’t been filed.
The Chicago Sun-Times’ No. 1-ranked team was stripped of its city title and 24 victories for the season.
Now, a Sun-Times investigation has found that CPS officials can’t say for sure whether basketball players at every school — including the top teams — were eligible.
That’s because the school district is missing most of the paperwork required to show team and player eligibility, documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show. The district ignored initial requests for the data and later released it.
The lack of accountability regarding the academic eligibility of student-athletes raises serious questions about the academic success of the students, the lessons the students are learning from school leaders and what it means for the future of the players, education experts said.
Though the CPS sports administration department is required by CPS bylaws to have official computer-generated eligibility sheets on file for each team for every game, the district could provide only 46 of those sheets on file — despite the 460 scheduled conference games this school year that should have produced 920 certificates.
But there is at least one instance in which each team in the game followed the rules and submitted the correct paperwork, according to CPS records. That game was played by Roosevelt and North-Grand high schools.
Apparently, no forms were on file for any of the 31 games in the city championship tournament, which Curie was forced to forfeit.
CPS officials could provide the Central Office Records Sheet, a form submitted at the start of the season listing eligible players, for only 30 of the 96 CPS boys basketball teams. Some of the documents, which were redacted by CPS, appeared to be unsigned. None of the forms appear to be from teams in the top conferences, the Red South and Red West. At least two teams from the Red Central, DuSable and King high schools, submitted the forms.
“Following a thorough investigation of District policies and practices, I have directed my team to strengthen the manner in which academic eligibility is evaluated to ensure that all of our student athletes are qualified to participate in athletic competition and are receiving the supports they need to succeed in the classroom,” CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement.
District spokesman Joel Hood said in an email that CPS hasn’t opened a new investigation to determine whether all schools and their basketball players were eligible, despite the lack of paperwork.
And Curie’s fate won’t change.
CPS said its investigation of the team is ongoing.
“We played four games in front of all the CPS administrators, and not one time did anyone check,” Curie coach Mike Oliver said. “Why are we the only team being penalized? Why out of all these years were we the only ones getting penalized for not turning in sheets? No one turned anything in.”
Oliver said he has paid a substantial personal price for the scandal.
“Everywhere I go, people point and say, ‘That’s the coach that cheated,’ ” he said. “I was waiting on that city championship for 22 years. To go through that, and they don’t have eligibility stuff for any of the teams? Wow.”
Angela Lumpkin, who has studied high school athletes and academic performance, said if school officials aren’t making academic performance a priority, they’re teaching students the wrong lessons, especially because most students don’t go on to be professional athletes or even college-level players.
“If we’re not stressing academics, which is what public education is all about, we’re not preparing them to provide for themselves later in life,” said Lumpkin, the head of the Health, Exercise and Sports Sciences department at Texas Tech University. “That’s really cheating [the] students.”
And it’s up to the administrators to keep kids academically accountable.
“Leadership is crucial here because if the leadership of the school district makes it clear that athletics is part of a complete educational program and that the educational program is not subservient to the athletics, then the teachers and the athletes will get the message very quickly,” said Harry Ross, associate professor at National Louis University’s National College of Education.
For CPS and Curie, the paperwork debacle began earlier this year.
An anonymous tip to CPS just hours before Curie faced Young on Feb. 21 triggered an investigation into the eligibility of the Curie players, whose names have not been released.
Despite the allegations, CPS officials encouraged that the game be played. It drew thousands of spectators, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to Chicago State University, the neutral site where the game was played. It was televised locally on WCIU-Channel 26.2 and was available live on ESPN3.com.
CPS officials opened an investigation and a week later determined that seven players had been ineligible since the beginning of the season.
That same investigation found that the players would have been deemed eligible if the proper paperwork had been filed, CPS said at the time.
Before every game, teams are supposed to exchange computer-generated eligibility sheets, according to CPS policy. But the rule rarely is followed or enforced, coaches told the Sun-Times.
Those sheets also are supposed to be filed with CPS.
To play sports, CPS students must maintain a 2.0 grade-point average or be in an “individual study plan” and have a form certifying that. Curie had none of the required forms on file, CPS officials said.
For Oliver and his team, it “feels personal.”
Because of the forfeits, Curie likely will drop from the prestigious Red Division to the White Division.
“That will really hurt us,” Curie junior Josh Stamps said. “Colleges aren’t going to look to come watch us in the White. We should be able to get back in the Red now that they know everyone’s eligibility was messed up.”
The revelation that CPS’ accounting of athletes’ eligibility essentially was nonexistent has spurred CPS to tighten the reins regarding the necessary paperwork.
Going forward, athletic directors are required to update eligibility forms on a weekly basis and provide referees in all sports with updated eligibility sheets before each game, according to a CPS statement.
“If eligibility sheets are not submitted or if referees identify any potential eligibility violations, the referee will be required to notify CPS Sports Administration,” the statement said.
Also, regional athletic directors and CPS sports administration officials will conduct “random check-ins at athletic contests to ensure that eligibility forms have been submitted and only eligible students are participating,” the statement said.
Those officials also will randomly check in with schools to ensure that students with an “individual study plan” are receiving the “academic supports they are required to receive.”
“There is clearly a need to have better oversight,” coach Tyrone Slaughter said. “I’m not sure if the referees being charged with that is the end all and be all. We need to come up with some better solutions, but it is clearly a first step.”