What Went Wrong with Prime Prep and the NCAA?

In January Prime Prep Academy, the charter school started by Deion Sanders, looked to have all its ducks in a row in January when it announced this:

We are pleased to announce that Prime Prep Academy has successfully completed all preliminary steps necessary for NCAA membership! As a result of this milestone, all prospective student athletes are eligible for individual review through the NCAA initial eligibility process.

Fast forward to July and now two top men’s basketball prospects from Prime Prep, Jordan Mickey and Karviar Shepherd, have been ruled non-qualifiers by the NCAA Eligibility Center despite assurances from the school:

[Both] were informed there would be no issues with the school being approved by the NCAA. They both had solid GPAs, were only one semester shy of qualifying and didn’t need to change schools in order to be eligible.

So what went wrong? Why were the prospects told everything would be fine only to not qualify now? Part of the answer is in Prime Prep’s January statement. Note that it does not say it has taken care of everything with the NCAA. It has completed “preliminary steps” with the NCAA that allow for “individual review” of prospects at the Eligibility Center.

Prime Prep’s Approved Core Course List at the EC backs this up. All the courses submitted by the academy have been approved except for one (Sociology/Social Problems). That means based on reviewing things like course descriptions, syllabi, and course flowcharts, the Eligibility Center determined that most of Prime Prep’s catalog fits the definition of a core course. But the list includes this notice right at the top:

This program is under an extended evaluation period to determine if it meets the academic requirements for NCAA cleared status. During this evaluation period, the courses listed below may be subject to further review on a case-by-case basis, which will require additional academic documentation.

That means when prospective student-athletes from Prime Prep submits their transcripts to the Eligibility Center, they likely also have to submit additional information, such as grade books, course stop-start dates and assignment dates, detailed course outlines, even copies of assignments, quizzes, and exams completed by the student.

What the NCAA is trying to determine is that the courses it has approved are being taught in an academically sound manner. When a school submits a new course or especially when a new school establishes its list for the first time, all the NCAA has is how the school plans to teach the course. The PSA Review process is then used to determine if the course is actually being taught according to the approved plan.

That’s not to accuse Prime Prep of anything untoward. Given what we know (good students, a new school, and an extensive but only preliminarily approved core course list), the most logical explanation is that the additional information submitted for Mickey and Shepherd’s qualification did not satisfy the Eligibility Center. There are many legitimate reasons for that, chief among them that Prime Prep’s administration did not fully understand the NCAA’s requirements for core courses. That this was Prime Prep’s first year in existence and the nature of its basketball schedule probably did not help matters either.

As for the athletes, they now have an uncertain future depending on how short they are of qualifying. If they are only missing a core course credit or less, they could try to squeeze in an online course over the next few weeks. But if they are further away from qualification, their only chance may be an initial eligibility waiver. Those waivers would lean heavily on their GPAs, test scores, and their ability to document how they may have been misinformed about Prime Prep’s status with the NCAA.