Two freshman football players at USC are under investigation for academic fraud. Sources say each is suspected of having had someone else take a college entrance examination for him.
The players are Delon Washington, a backup tailback who gained 109 yards in the Trojans' season-opening 24-17 victory over Washington, and Kenny Cooper, a redshirt tight end. Each could lose a year's eligibility if his American College Testing exam is invalidated.
Sources familiar with the cases, each of whom asked not to be identified, told The Times that security personnel from ACT headquarters in Iowa City, Iowa, have challenged the players because of marked increases from their first to second test scores. Such challenges normally occur when a student's score improves by about five points.
ACT officials are trying to determine whether someone other then the players took the second tests. Each case is being handled separately.
USC athletic department officials could not be reached Friday night. Friday afternoon, an athletic department spokesman called Washington's situation "day to day, or week to week."
Washington and Cooper have submitted handwriting samples and fingerprints to ACT officials, according to sources. According to one source, the writing samples and prints from the second tests did not match those taken from Washington and Cooper during an ACT investigator's visit to Los Angeles recently.
Washington, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound tailback from Kimball High in Dallas, has been withheld from football competition since before last week's game against Baylor. USC announced Washington's situation Sept. 23, the day before the Baylor game, citing "eligibility questions." Since that time, there has been no update from the school on his situation.
Roosevelt Vaughn Jr., Kimball's principal, said no one on his staff had been contacted about the case.
As a redshirt player, Cooper, a 6-3, 265-pound tight end from Plant City, Fla., normally practices with the team but does not play in games. It is not known if he has continued to practice regularly in recent weeks. Washington practiced regularly the week of the Baylor game, but not as regularly this week.
Reached in Plant City, Cooper's father, Ben Cooper, said he was unaware of any problems with his son's ACT test scores.
"I haven't heard anything like that," the elder Cooper said.
The circumstances of the players are not identical, one source said.
Another source said that USC administrators are acting responsibly and are confident the matter will be resolved favorably.
"This type of thing can lead to a very damaging indictment of the kids, unnecessarily so," he said.
If the test results are invalidated, USC is not expected to be held accountable. That would happen only if there is evidence of school involvement. The NCAA and Pacific 10 Conference are not investigating USC, although each group has been apprised of the situation.
It is not likely that USC would have to forfeit its victory over Washington for using an ineligible player, Washington. More probable is that each player will lose a year's eligibility if his score is decertified. Pac-10 officials will wait until the ACT review is complete before deciding whether to investigate.
Standardized college entrance exams, the ACT and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), are used in part to determine initial eligibility for NCAA Division I athletes. Academic standards--commonly known as Proposition 48--require freshmen to score at least 17 on the ACT or at least 700 on the SAT to be eligible.
Those standards are expected to be revised by NCAA membership at its January convention and are the target of heated debate. The Black Coaches Assn. has threatened to boycott some men's basketball games during the 1994-95 season unless the test scores are de-emphasized.
None of the sources would say why Washington's and Cooper's test results were challenged after the semester started. Questionable scores usually are flagged during the summer months.
"I heard that, in the normal process of monitoring the test scores, that ACT found something that looked suspicious and moved on it," one source said.
Another source said the timing was unusual, but refused to elaborate, saying only that USC had a good explanation.
"It's totally USC being responsible for its own academic evaluation," he said. "So, we're not responding to what any other institution or competitor brought forth.
"It's important to realize that the neither the NCAA nor the Pac-10 initiated this, nor another school, or a high school or a jealous teacher. It's the university taking extra caution."
Part of that caution might be because the questionable test scores came through a year after another leading USC recruit, Saladin McCullough of Pasadena Muir High, had to give up his scholarship before school began when his SAT result was challenged by Educational Testing Service, the Princeton, N.J., group that oversees that test.