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Legendary Long Island coach receives $545K payout amidst grade-changing scandal

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A Long Island superintendent who was previously a famous football coach in the region has resigned as a result of a scandal surrounding adjusted grades of a former football star.

As reported by NBC New York, Newsday, the New York Post and other New York City outlets, Joseph Cipp Jr. was forced to step down as Superintendent of South County Central School District after the Bellport (N.Y.) High School board voted to buy him out of his contract. The decision means that a cash-strapped district will have to pay $545,280 in a lump sum (as disclosed by Newsday) to cover his salary through the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

Why would the school district make such a decision? The answer has everything to do with Ryan Sloan, a football star at Bellport in fall 2010 who was recruited by Syracuse. According to NBC New York, Cipp Jr. instructed other district officials to improve Sloan's grades so he could academically qualify to attend Syracuse.

The alleged illicit activity worked, as Sloan was admitted to the school with a football scholarship and competed for the Orange in the 2011 fall season. A year later, an investigation found that Cipp had encouraged school employees to change Sloan's D's to C's and B's in four courses, with the improved grades pushing his GPA into an acceptable range for Syracuse's admissions board.

Cipp has consistently denied that he changed any grades, though his willingness to voluntarily resign raised flags about his ability to defend himself against the internal probe that discovered the grade irregularities.

Meanwhile, Sloan has insisted that he improved his grades through old-fashioned hard work and nothing more.

What is more confusing is why Cipp would risk so much to help a single athlete. The now-departed superintendent is the winningest coach in Suffolk County history, making him a walking and talking legend in the community. His rise from coach to superintendent gave him more influence over school issues and made him a powerful force in directing the district's policies.

So, why would he risk all that to ensure that a high school senior landed a scholarship with the program he desperately wanted to attend? That question remains while his supporters and detractors have both weighed in expressing their respective support or frustration with his ousting.

"My concern is, what about the other child who was really getting the good grades to go to Syracuse University?" Joanne Long Merrill, an East Patchogue parent at the board meeting at which Cipp was forced to resign, told NBC New York.

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