With all the talk of Wunderlic tests over the last few days, it’s worth remembering that prospective college athletes must first pass some basic barriers before even getting to college. Luckily, as the New York Times reports today, there are a wide variety of unaccredited, ultra-dodgy “prep schools” designed to help students more gifted at hoops than standardized test-taking get to “Yes, you may attend UTEP/Mississippi State.”

 It’s a lengthy and exhaustive piece, not given to bloggy excerpting, but the article details the rise of unaccredited high schools — many of them with student bodies consisting entirely of a basketball team and faculties consisting entirely of a basketball coach — that function as basketball factories/the last bastion of “spelling classes” in high school education. The schools serve their students through inflated grades (which lower the ceiling on Prop 48 SAT requirements — the higher the GPA, the lower the SAT required to qualify) and SAT/ACT tutoring. Oh, and practicing four hours a day, year-round.

Some of these institutions recently joined other private schools to form the National Elite Athletic Association. With more than two dozen teams from Los Angeles to Toronto, this conference is seeking a shoe contract and a television deal. Its teams sometimes travel thousands of miles to play in tournaments that often attract more college coaches than fans. Those coaches will pay $100 for booklets of information about the players.

“I believe that our high school associations create mediocrity,” said Linzy Davis, a conference founder, who coaches in Stockbridge, Ga. “We have rules in high school associations that say a coach can coach a kid at this time and not at this time. Meanwhile, you have the Europeans that can practice eight hours a day.”

Sounds pretty aboveboard, right? Well, no, but also:

An investigation by The New York Times found more than a dozen of these institutions, some of which closed soon after opening. The Times found that at least 200 players had enrolled at such places in the past 10 years and that dozens had gone on to play at N.C.A.A. Division I universities like Mississippi State, George Washington, Georgetown and Texas-El Paso.

“I would say that in my 21 years, the number of those schools has quadrupled, and I would put schools in quotation marks,” Phil Martelli, the men’s basketball coach at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, said. “They’re not all academic institutions.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association acknowledges that it has not acted as such places have proliferated. For years, its Clearinghouse has approved transcripts from these institutions without questioning them.

(not the actual logo of a real academic institution, sadly)

There’s much more. But while this is the first most people will have heard of, say, Boys To Men Academy in Chicago (16 students and a curriculum consisting of courses from an online correspondence school and production by Michael Bivins), it is not the first visit to the papers for Philadelphia’s Lutheran Christian Academy, which got a similarly lengthy run-down in the Washington Post two weeks ago. Thanks to Brendan Flynn for the link.