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Troubling Questions


Which of the following statements is true? A) NCAA test-score standards for freshmen have never been stricter. B) Athletes are cheating to meet those standards as never before. C) Recruiters, high school coaches, middlemen, even proctors are helping them do so–and getting away with it. D) All of the above.

It’s a straight shot on Interstate 15 from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, a numbing drive past stray tumbleweed, distant peaks and last-chance filling stations. As they covered that route in her black Saturn on a June evening three years ago, Crystal Collier wondered why her friend Nate Cebrun was in such a hurry. Cebrun told her he had a 10 p.m. meeting at the L.A. Airport Marriott. “I knew it must have been a very important meeting,” Collier says. “He was driving 90 miles an hour and taking all kinds of chances.”

She would soon discover what the rush was about. Cebrun, 51, is a resident of Las Vegas whose activities as an unregistered sports agent in the Foot Locker scandal, in which seven Florida State athletes got $5,900 in free merchandise (SI, May 16, 1994), resulted in the Seminoles’ football program going on NCAA probation in 1996. A self-described “sports consultant,” Cebrun has worked as a runner trying to scare up clients for agent Leigh Steinberg, among others, and for his role in the Florida State case he ended up in a Tallahassee jail for 30 days. Waiting for him and Collier when they finally reached the Marriott at around 11:30 that night was Zendon Hamilton, a 6’11” basketball center from Sewanhaka High in Floral Park, N.Y., who was one of the most sought-after seniors in the high school class of 1994.

Nine times since January of his junior year Hamilton had taken the SATs, trying to score the minimum the NCAA required for freshman eligibility. Nine times he had come up short. The next day–June 4, a Saturday–would be the last of the dates recognized by the NCAA for that academic year. If Hamilton failed to meet the standard this time, he would have to sit out the following season at the Division I school of his choice, St. John’s, or resign himself to playing junior college ball. Hence the urgent business at hand: enrolling Hamilton in what Cebrun calls his “SAT tutoring program.”

And to hear Cebrun tell it, he had the Cheers of last-chance saloons. Cebrun had Lynwood High School.

If anyone ever asked why he had flown from New York City to L.A. to take the test, Hamilton was told by Cebrun that he was to say that he had come to attend a prom with a girl he had met while playing on the summer basketball circuit.

Early the next morning Hamilton showed up at Lynwood High, a school just south of L.A. where Harold Cebrun, Nate’s brother, had once served as principal. Hamilton took his No. 2 pencils into Building S-111. Nate says that he told Hamilton to take the test as best he could, and there’s no evidence that Hamilton didn’t try his best. But Cebrun says he had passed on the name of this “tutoree” to someone who works in Lynwood’s testing program so there would be a safety net: The insider was to make adjustments or additions to Hamilton’s answer sheet before it was sealed in its envelope, bundled with the rest of that morning’s tests and returned to Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the SAT.

Cebrun says he was not only currying favor with Hamilton, a potential client, by rigging the test, but that he also was earning some cash; he was paid $2,000 for making sure Hamilton got a qualifying score. Business was conducted with alacrity. Collier says that during the Friday-night meeting at the Marriott, Cebrun and two other men who were present–Greg (Shoes) Vetrone, then an assistant coach at UC Irvine and now an assistant at UNLV, and Gary Charles, coach of Hamilton’s AAU team, the Long Island Panthers–went off by themselves. When they returned, she says, Cebrun was holding a large envelope. She says Cebrun later told her that the envelope contained a down payment on his services, and he showed her the contents: $1,500 in $100 bills.

According to Cebrun, Vetrone was helping out in the SAT scheme–he had introduced Charles to Cebrun–in the hope that Charles might be grateful and steer some talented high schoolers to him in the future. Shortly after Hamilton’s qualifying score came through several weeks later, Cebrun says, a cashier’s check for $500 showed up in the mail, completing the $2,000 payment. “That was it,” he says. “Simple.”

Indeed, test fraud is so simple to do that SI has found examples of everyone–from players and high school coaches to recruiters and middlemen–engaging in it. Brian Ponder, an all-state guard from Detroit who’s now at Owens Community College in Toledo, admits to old-fashioned copying. Lee Coward, a star guard on Missouri’s two-time Big Eight champions of the late 1980s and another Detroiter, says an impostor took his test and no one was the wiser; the stand-in, Lawrence Madison, says that he passed one test for Coward and two for Coward’s future Missouri teammate Doug Smith (an accusation Smith denies). Cebrun says he has set up inside jobs, like the one he arranged for Hamilton, for numerous other high school stars. And those are only the basketball players. Invalidated test scores have become increasingly common in college football, in which the rosters are about seven times the size of those in basketball. USC alone has had four players’ scores challenged in the last four years. The large number of athletes who have had their test scores challenged over the last several years suggests that there are many, many more who aren’t being caught.

“If you’re a decent basketball player, you’re pushed into it,” says Terrance Roberson, a three-time Parade All-America at Buena Vista High in Saginaw, Mich., who sat out his freshman year at Fresno State in 1995-96 after his ACT test score was challenged, though he insists he didn’t cheat. “You’re thinking, If I don’t pass this test, I might not be in school. I might still be around my neighborhood. You’re going to do whatever it takes. In this world, if you ain’t got caught, you ain’t cheating.”

In Hamilton’s case, those whom Cebrun accuses of taking part say that no cheating–or payoffs or misdeeds of any sort–took place. Hamilton, who will be a senior at St. John’s in the fall, would not talk to SI, but his father, George, says, “The allegation that Zendon was involved in any wrongdoing with SAT tests is totally false.” In explaining why his son schlepped nearly 3,000 miles across the country on a $735 plane ticket on the eve of his last chance to be eligible to play big-time college basketball, George, a Seventh Day Adventist who spends Saturdays in church, says he was not able to take Zendon to the Saturday-morning test on Long Island for which Zendon had registered. Charles was going to California to visit Riverside Community College that weekend, so George asked if Zendon could accompany him and take the test in that area. George says he called ETS and asked for “a testing center near Riverside,” and Lynwood, a site 50 miles from Riverside, was recommended to him. When SI asked the same question last week, ETS supplied the names of four schools within the Riverside city limits that offered the test on the day that Hamilton took it in Lynwood.

Charles says he accompanied Hamilton to L.A. for the test but never met with Cebrun or took part in any alleged testing fraud. “It just couldn’t have happened, didn’t happen,” he says. Vetrone says he has never had any involvement in SAT fraud but would not answer specific questions from SI about his alleged role in the Hamilton case. Through his lawyer, Steve Stein, Vetrone also charged that Cebrun twice tried to extort $5,000 from him, once in person and once by mail. Stein refused, however, to tell SI what information Cebrun was threatening to reveal. (Cebrun denied the accusation.)

Jim Wallace, a vice principal who has supervised the administration of the SAT at Lynwood for 14 years, denies that orchestrated fraud could have taken place at his testing center. “Impossible,” he says. “Ridiculous. This is a test center, not a cheat center.” He says that ETS has challenged only one test taken at Lynwood under his supervision, and he doesn’t know whether or not the student under suspicion was an athlete. Several coaches, however, including Vetrone, told SI that Lynwood was notorious for test fraud. “That place was real hot,” Vetrone says. “That was the word in California. If you wanted a kid to make it, send him to Lynwood.” Vetrone says he had never made use of Lynwood’s services. “You can check me out,” he says. “I’ve never had one player that ever went there.”

Not true, says Todd Whitehead, L.A.’s 1993 3-A Player of the Year, at Fremont High, and Vetrone’s top recruit at UC Irvine that year. Whitehead says that he failed on his first two attempts to meet the test-score requirement and that Vetrone, who had already signed him to a letter of intent, then told him to take the test at Lynwood. Whitehead says he did so honestly and has no knowledge of any fraud that might have been committed. When he found out his score, which was good enough to qualify him to play for the Anteaters as a freshman, he says, “I called Shoes right away. I was real happy. He was happy. Everybody was happy.”

Cebrun takes credit for assuring that Whitehead passed the test. Whitehead played two seasons for UC Irvine before flunking out.

Cebrun says he also took care of Avondre Jones, a 1993 McDonald’s High School All-America, who, after an odyssey that has taken him from USC to Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and back to Southern Cal, is scheduled to suit up for Fresno State this season. He’s a graduate of Artesia High in Lakewood, Calif., who took the SAT at Lynwood, improving a nonqualifying score of 630 by 460 points in two months.

Jones says his test score was investigated and ultimately validated by ETS and calls any suggestions that cheating accounted for his improvement “ridiculous.”

Ever since the NCAA introduced them in 1986, the academic reforms commonly known as Prop 48 have been at the center of college sports’ most truculent debate. Opponents deride standardized tests as racially, culturally and economically biased, an unreliable predictor of a student’s ability to do college work and the reason that blacks now make up a smaller percentage than they once did of those receiving athletic scholarships. Proponents credit those higher standards with raising graduation rates for black athletes and curtailing the shameful exploitation of blacks as athletic mercenaries. But both sides agree on one thing: Cheating has never been more tempting to recruits and coaches, especially those involved in the high-profile, money-sodden sport of college basketball.

A Kentucky recruit named Eric Manuel was the original test-fraud baby, banned for life by the NCAA in 1989 after his score jumped an astounding 16 ACT points and an investigation revealed that 211 of his 219 answers–right and wrong–matched those of a student sitting to his left. Recent changes affecting the game have only heightened the incentive to cheat. The NCAA has ratcheted up its standards, with the latest sliding scale requiring a high schooler with a 2.0 grade point average in his core curriculum courses to score at least a 1010 on the SAT or a 21 on the ACT. Meanwhile, with so many top players hoping to emulate the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Garnett and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant by going straight from high school to the NBA, recruiters are hard-pressed to get their most talented quarry to choose college at all, let alone pay Prop 48 penance by sitting idle for a season. “Business is big and getting bigger,” Cebrun says of the test-fraud racket. “If you’re a blue-chipper, it’s like Whitney Houston sang in The Preacher’s Wife, ‘Help is on the way.'” Cebrun says he got out of the business a couple of years ago because he was getting too many calls for his services. “It was getting too hot,” he says. “When the fire is burning, you don’t put your hand in it.”

Ed Lupomech, who investigates test-fraud cases for the NCAA, has no hard data on the number of cheating incidents that occur. “But as the bar gets higher, the number of cases gets higher too,” he says. Calvin Symons, director of the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse, believes that test scores of athletes are being challenged at a rate about three times higher than those of nonathletes.

Interviews with individuals on both sides of the law suggest that cheating techniques are limited only by the imagination. One scam involves social security numbers. Say a prospect takes the SAT for the first time, honestly and using his correct social security number on his answer sheet, and scores a nonqualifying 650. The next time, a stand-in takes it for him, using the recruit’s name and scoring a qualifying 1030. Because the substitute has used a social security number that’s different from the prospect’s by a digit or two, the jump is never detected by the ACT’s computers, which hunt for suspicious scores by social security number.

In another scam a recruit first tries to pass honestly but confines his test taking to one of the two tests, either the ACT or the SAT. After failing two or three times at, say, the ACT, he then enlists a proxy to sit in for him the first time he “takes” the SAT. Because the two agencies don’t share data, the recruit’s bogus SAT score never comes to the ACT’s attention, and the folks at ETS, with nothing to compare the prospect’s score with, don’t find it suspicious. The NCAA Clearinghouse doesn’t have a computer program to compare scores, either. To blow the whistle on this scam usually takes a vigilant admissions officer like Florida’s Bill Kolb, whose office has a computer program to compare ACT and SAT scores. As a result, he has alerted testing agencies to investigate a number of athletes’ scores, even if that makes him unpopular with the Gators faithful. “I try not to listen to radio call-in shows,” he says.

The cheats have also wised up on another count. “Where all these kids and their handlers have gotten smarter is that they are only ‘taking’ the test once,” says a source in the NCAA. “They’re not scoring 15, 14, 14, then 21. If you only post one score, it’s a lot harder to allege cheating.”

Then there’s the buddy system: A good student who has already met his test-score requirement and a classmate who still hasn’t qualified take the test on the same Saturday morning. Poindexter puts Sluggo’s name on Poindexter’s test, and Sluggo puts Poindexter’s on Sluggo’s. A comparison of handwriting samples will expose this ruse but only if the jump in score is big enough to touch off an investigation.

If the NCAA comes across evidence of fraud, it is passed along to security officials at the testing agencies. Only those agencies can challenge a score. According to ETS, about 1,000 of the 2 million SAT answer sheets it processes each year are invalidated on suspicion of cheating. American College Testing, which administers the ACT, reports a similar rate. Of those cases, about two thirds are investigated after proctors or other students report cheating; the other third are identified by a computer detecting an inordinate jump in a score. But both agencies concede that if a fraudulent score is obtained through an inside job, it’s unlikely ever to come to light.

Because ETS routinely puts on hold any test score that shows a jump of more than 350 points, Jones is presumably the lone Lynwood test taker Wallace refers to as having had his score challenged. ETS security officials look for indications of two types of fraud: use of an impostor, which can be documented by examining handwriting samples; and copying, which can be exposed if the answer sheets of neighboring students are similar. If such physical evidence supports ETS’s suspicion–and copying can be proved with the aid of the seating chart that every supervisor fills out–a student is given four options: Retake the test to prove that the high score was not the result of cheating; wipe the score from the record as if it was never taken; have the agency report the score, but with a note identifying it as suspicious; or go to arbitration.

After looking into the Jones case, ETS forwarded his score to Southern Cal. USC, after an NCAA follow-up inquiry, accepted it. While the agency won’t comment on any individual’s test or on the status of any testing center, ETS director of test security Ray Nicosia says that “we close the books” on a case and approve the score if there’s no evidence of an impostor or of copying. Colleges, according to the NCAA’s Lupomech, are reluctant to challenge a score that ETS has approved. “You’d get lawsuits from people who’d want to know, ‘Why aren’t you accepting my score?'” he says.

Cebrun says an insider can inoculate himself against an investigation by surrounding each “tutoree” with students likely to do poorly. If test-security personnel follow up, they are referred to an exculpatory seating chart. Cebrun says he also tried to supply his contact with an idea of what sort of score would be plausible. “If a student was barely making it in school,” Cebrun says, “he had to barely pass the test.”

ETS works closely with high schools to choose testing-center supervisors, who in turn hire staff to work under them. “We typically look for someone who is trusted with confidential material,” Nicosia says. “It’s up to the supervisor to hire people who’ll work on test day. We don’t care how he seats the kids, as long as he fills out that seating chart. We have 6,000 testing centers, and it’s physically impossible to be everywhere.”

Because of the trust invested in them, testing-center personnel could alter answer sheets with impunity. Yet each year ETS shuts down no more than a half dozen of its centers, and then usually for laxity in following procedure, not for corruption.

Cebrun says that the race of the proctor can be an asset, that as a rule the NCAA and the testing agencies are more willing to accept a high score from a black student-athlete if he took the test under the supervision of a white proctor. “A kid takes a test where blacks work, and he has to retake it or go to junior college,” Cebrun says. “So the lesson learned is, don’t go to no all-black testing center. A white guy who wouldn’t know Nate Cebrun from an NBA player–that’s the recipe for success.”

Cebrun’s claims are hard to prove. He is known in some circles as an unsavory Las Vegas character with a criminal record. But while SI’s investigation could not establish whether or not Hamilton passed the test on his own, Cebrun’s description of meeting with Hamilton at the Marriott that weekend is substantiated by Collier, who has since had a falling-out with Cebrun; and by Carl Williams, an old friend of Cebrun’s who was also there. Further, numerous sources in college basketball identify Cebrun as the man to see for an SAT score, and a Southern California high school coach says, “For years we’ve all known about Lynwood. If you send your kid to Lynwood, you have to go through Nate. And we all did it.”

At least one of the players who have had their test scores challenged over the past few years has ties to Shoes Vetrone. In 1993 Vetrone landed Kevin Simmons, a 6’8″ high school All-America from New York City, for UC Irvine. Simmons reportedly had his qualifying test score questioned by ETS after a jump of 210 points.

Simmons is so loyal to Vetrone that he followed him from Irvine to UNLV, where this fall he’ll join Vetrone’s highest-profile recruit yet, Lamar Odom. A 6’9″ forward, Odom is the gemstone of the 1997 recruiting class and, as fate would have it, played for Gary Charles, his AAU coach and adviser. Odom’s test score hasn’t been investigated. But at Christ the King High in Queens, where he played his first three seasons of high school basketball, Odom scraped by with a 71.2 average, barely above passing, and ranked 312th in a class of 334. Then he pinballed through three schools in his senior year, leaving behind an academic record so dodgy that the colleges pursuing him–including Connecticut, Fresno State, Kentucky and UCLA–expected him to go straight to the NBA.

His transcript, faxed anonymously to SI with a cover sheet reading, “If you’re interested in entrance test fraud, this is example A,” shows that Odom nonetheless scored a 22 on the ACT–a score that puts him in the top 42% nationwide for all students. “The Odom thing pisses me off because we were told by everybody that we had no chance because he was going pro,” says Fresno State coach Jerry Tarkanian. “They said he couldn’t pass the test and never went to class.”

The SAT equivalent of a 22 is a 1030. Last summer Odom told the New York Daily News that he had scored 630 on a practice test at the beginning of an SAT prep course and by the end had brought his score up to 820. Odom told SI he took another test-prep course in the fall before sitting for the ACT on Oct. 26, and that helps explain his further rise to 1030.

A rise of 400 points over five months would seem to make a mockery of standardized tests, whose creators bill them as measurements of a student’s lifelong schooling. Even the people who run test-preparation services would hesitate to take credit for back-to-back 190- and 210-point jumps achieved in less than half a year. Jay Rosner, an attorney with the Princeton Review Foundation who has successfully litigated a case to force ETS to accept a similar increase, says such jumps are possible but “atypical and unusual.” He adds that while there is some cumulative benefit to taking several prep courses, switching from one test to the other would make that benefit marginal. If he worked in test security, Rosner says, “I would begin to look at other factors to make myself more comfortable with that score.”

Odom says he took the test in Plainview, N.Y. and passed it fair and square. “I won’t lie,” he says. “In the classroom I lose focus too easy. I get lazy. But when I don’t let nothing distract me, I’m good at whatever I do.”

Any search for test fraud will eventually leave L.A. and New York and wind up in the Midwest. Scan a list of players whose scores have been challenged, and the state of Michigan crops up again and again. Shortly after Prop 48 was enacted a decade ago, Tarkanian, then at UNLV, says he fielded a call from an unidentified man asking for $2,500 in return for fixing a score for Anderson Hunt, a star Runnin’ Rebels recruit from Detroit’s Southwestern High. Arizona State coach Bill Frieder was at Michigan at about the same time when, he says, an unknown person called him, demanding the identical sum for the same service on behalf of Terry Mills, a Wolverines signee from Romulus (Mich.) High. Each coach says he told the caller to get lost, and each player sat out his first season as a Prop 48 casualty before going on to be a star.

Times have changed, though, and Ponder, the all-state guard from Detroit, didn’t have that kind of patience. Ponder signed with Boston College in April ’95, only to have the ACT invalidate his score. He admits he cheated to raise his ACT score from 14 to 22. He says he did so on his own, copying off a student sitting nearby, but says he easily could have gotten help. “I talked to a few Division I coaches who said they’d have it taken care of,” says Ponder. “Schools you’d recognize. It doesn’t take a brain scientist to find out what they’re talking about.” Ponder declined to name the colleges or their representatives but says Boston College wasn’t one of them. He chose to take the test again, came up short with a 15 and ended up in junior college.

Ponder says that “six to 10” of his basketball-playing friends “took it [the ACT or the SAT] one time, saw they couldn’t do crap on it and had someone else take it for them. If you’ve got connections, you can get somewhere without the test. It’s a risky deal. But people take the risk because it’s worth it. If you’re in my situation, with a full ride waiting for you and you can’t pass the test, I think it’s hard to blame a kid for doing whatever it takes. This is our only way out.”

Roberson, the Fresno State star from Saginaw, was forced to sit out the 1995-96 season after suddenly ringing up a 21 following five ACT scores in the 12-to-15 range. “I had people coming up to me, telling me they’d help me,” says Roberson, who insists his 21 was honestly earned. “Not coaches, but students in general. They just wanted to say they helped Terrance Roberson and feel privileged and stuff. It’s easy to cheat, man, especially if you take it at your own high school. I know, because I know guys at my high school that got away with it for football reasons. People at summer camps, everywhere, talk about how to find a way to beat the system. The first key is to know your proctor. In some places the head coach is the proctor.”

“There are some kids who do get caught,” says Tarkanian, who next season will coach Roberson, Jones and forward Winfred Walton, a top-five recruit from Detroit’s Pershing High who transferred from Syracuse after a suspicious score on his ACT was invalidated last fall. “But if what I hear is true, there are lots, lots more who don’t.”

Lawrence Madison was never caught. Madison had been a good enough baseball player at Detroit’s Henry Ford High in the early 1980s to win an athletic scholarship to St. Augustine’s, a Division II school in Raleigh, N.C. In the spring of ’86, while at St. Augustine’s, he got a call from someone back home–the son of a woman whose grass he used to cut, a guy named Vic Adams.

Adams is the street agent who helped set up Missouri’s pipeline of basketball talent out of the Motor City during the late 1980s and whose relationship with the school helped land the Tigers on probation in 1990. According to Madison, Adams got right to the point: One of his players had a knack with the ball but not with the books. Madison normally played first base, but Adams wanted him to be a pinch hitter.

“He said, ‘I know you did well on your SATs,'” says Madison. “‘Would you come up here and take his?’ I was like, Wow.”

Madison says the offer was for expenses, plus $200 if he could deliver a qualifying score for Lee Coward, a guard at Murray-Wright High and a Missouri recruit. It seemed like easy money.

Madison went to the Raleigh-Durham airport, where a prepaid round-trip ticket was waiting for him. Upon arriving in Detroit, Madison says he was taken by Adams to Coward’s high school, where a sympathetic administrator allowed him to sit for a photo that would be affixed to a phony I.D. bearing Coward’s name.

By the time he turned up for the test on Saturday morning, Madison had memorized Coward’s address, birth date and social security number. Three hours later he had done well enough to turn Coward into a freshman-eligible but not so well that ETS would follow up and compare signatures. According to Madison, Adams had fronted him a small sum; the balance was wired to Raleigh via Western Union after the score came in. “I really didn’t think about the consequences,” Madison says. “The way it was put to me, I thought I was really giving someone a chance.”

Coward confirms that he took the SAT once, fell short and never took it again. “I don’t know who took it for me,” he says. “All I know is I was eligible to play ball as a freshman at Missouri. After the first one, the word to me was, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ So I didn’t worry about it.”

Whether or not Missouri recruiter Rich Daly knew about the scam is unclear. Coward says that Daly, whose ability to work Coward’s hometown had earned him the nickname Doctor Detroit, was “the guy I dealt with” but that Daly never explicitly indicated that he knew about Madison’s pinch-hitting. Daly’s relationship with Adams is well documented and is one of the reasons Missouri landed on NCAA probation.

Coward, who is unemployed and living in Detroit, says he didn’t reveal any of this to the NCAA investigators who looked into Missouri’s infractions. He says he was led to believe that the Tigers’ coaching staff would look after his basketball career if he kept quiet. “It was never said, just understood,” he says.

Madison says he provided the same services a year later for MacKenzie High’s Doug Smith, the 6’10” forward who would go on to join Coward at Mizzou, become an All-America and No. 1 NBA draft choice and play last season for the CBA’s Oklahoma City Cavalry. “When Vic called about Doug, I thought, Wow, I’m their man,” Madison says. He flew to Detroit on two weekends in early ’87–once in January to take the SAT and once in the spring to take the ACT. He took both tests at Northwestern High. As Madison recalls, one time a proctor passed him, checking I.D.

“Doug Smith?” she asked.

“Yeah,” said Madison.

“O.K.,” she replied with a laugh. “Sure.”

“I did well on the SAT, so I don’t know why [Smith] needed an ACT,” Madison says. He says Smith joked with him while Madison posed for another phony I.D., and that Adams, Mizzou’s agent, was now so confident that Madison would come through that he paid both $200 sums up front.

To this day Madison can recall some of the most picayune details of his missions: Coward’s birthday (“He was a Christmas baby”), the car Adams used to chauffeur him to and from the testing sites (a gray Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport), even Smith’s parting words to him (“Now, don’t do too well, Lawrence”).

“From the way this was handled, so cavalierly, I knew that breaking these rules wasn’t as big a deal as it should have been,” says Madison, who has settled in North Carolina, where he manages a restaurant. “I don’t even think they looked at it as academic fraud. They looked at it as business. It was like clockwork: make the call, fly in, handle the paperwork, go home, get your money. I guess the only thing they had to make sure of was that I was black.”

As the years went by, Madison started following Missouri from afar. But as the Tigers turned into a national power, he began to wonder if $200 a test wasn’t a slave wage. “By that time Doug was earning millions for Missouri,” he says. “I felt I had done them a good favor and they had taken advantage of my naivete.” In 1989 Madison says he had a contentious phone conversation with Adams, trying to get more money. “I asked for $10,000. Vic was like, ‘I’ve known you all my life, don’t try to double on me. A deal’s a deal.'”

Madison threatened to go public with what he had done. He says Daly phoned him, and the two danced through a conversation that ended with each party saying that he had taped the call. Madison got no more money and, until now, has kept quiet. He hasn’t been in touch with Adams or Daly since.

“I don’t know nothin’,” says Smith of Madison’s account, although Coward recalls joking with Smith about how they had dodged their tests. Numerous messages left with Daly and Adams seeking comment went unreturned.

“Detroit’s a town of hustlers, where getting over is the norm,” Madison says. In fact, the NCAA has received tips that the best time for a recruit to get a test fixed is over the weekend of Magic’s Roundball Classic, the showcase for high school All-Americas that takes place in Detroit every spring.

But the biggest hustle may be the consequences of such blithe and widespread flouting of the rules by adults. The first employee of Missouri whom Coward met appeared to Coward to countenance academic fraud. “It tells you it’s all about money, not education,” Coward says. “And it’s not just Missouri. It’s everywhere. Other schools would have done the same for me. I can’t even begin to tell you how much money we brought in from ’86 to ’90. Money, cheating, winning–college basketball is a billion-dollar industry.”

A fierce belief that standardized tests are biased against minorities and the poor may be able to temper the guilt of some proctor’s or coach’s conscience. Indeed, even if Zendon Hamilton went 0 for 10 on his college boards, he’s still a senior-to-be in good standing at St. John’s. But Terrance Roberson’s credo–“If you ain’t got caught, you ain’t cheating”–has led to the heartbreaking practice of coaches preemptively “taking care of” an adolescent’s test without giving him so much as a chance to earn his score honestly.

Ben Kelso, basketball coach at Detroit’s Cooley High, has watched test fraud adversely affect Ponder’s life. Another former player of his, Daniel Lyton, was also a Missouri recruit during the late 1980s, and Lyton says Adams and Daly also told him not to worry about passing his test. “Some people argue that if cheating is what it takes to get out of here, then do it,” says Kelso. “So the first thing we’re teaching these kids is how to cheat. What a lesson. We should be embarrassed. Shorting these kids is what’s ruining our inner city already. Somewhere down the line it’s going to mess them up bad.”

Madison agrees. “I did something wrong,” he says. “I’m not proud of it. But the only way to stop wrong from recurring is to say something about it. If I turn my back, I let the wrong continue.”

He’s asked if there’s another Lawrence Madison out there. “The question should be,” he says, “How many are out there?”

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Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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    Connect with Don's team directly by calling (850) 412-0300 (8:30AM – 6:00PM EST)

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