Ex-Tennis Coach Sentenced Over Admissions Scandal

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A former University of Texas tennis coach is headed to prison for his involvement in the “Varsity Blues” admissions scandal that has implicated 53 people, including actress Lori Loughlin.

Michael Center, who was fired as Texas’ tennis coach after he was arrested in March 2019, was sentenced to six months in prison Monday. According to USA Today, Center accepted $100,000 in bribes to get a student admitted to Texas by falsely tagging them as a tennis recruit.

“This is a case, I think, that society has an interest in punishment,” U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns said, noting that Center’s actions “impugn the entire integrity in … the education system in this country.”

The 55-year-old Center apologized before receiving his sentence.

"I just want to say how sorry I am," Center said. "I’m so sorry to my family, my wife, my two boys, my friends and all my former players that I coached over the last 30 years. I’ve never done anything like this before. I would never do anything like this again."

Center, who pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud, is the 15th person – and first college coach – to receive jail time in the scandal. He has the second-longest sentence so far, trailing Douglas Hodge, a parent who paid scheme mastermind Rick Singer $850,000 and was sentenced to nine months in prison.

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Center is scheduled to report to prison on April 6. According to The Texas Tribune, he was also ordered to pay a $20,000 fine, forfeit the $60,000 that he said he made from the scheme, and serve 12 months of supervised release.

"This is a good man who made a mistake," Center’s attorney Jack Cunha said. "None of us want to be judged on the worst day of our lives, and that's his worst day.

"I thought he got a hard hit. He helped them out from the very beginning. He did everything he could to make it right, knowing what he did was wrong. It's a case that's media sexy, and I think he paid for that."

Center’s case revolved around him accepting a $100,000 payment in 2015, listing a non-tennis playing California student as a tennis player. He donated $40,000 to Texas’ athletics program, while the student never joined the college tennis team after he was accepted.

”It was because of his profession as a coach of an elite team at a prestigious university that the defendant was able to commit this crime," U.S. Assistant Attorney Leslie Wright said, arguing it took away a spot for a deserving student and Center used his bribe money for personal use.

Fourteen parents have been sentenced in the scandal, while former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer avoided jail last June. Several more coaches await sentencing.

Fifteen parents, including Loughlin, are fighting charges and could go to trial this year. Actress Felicity Huffman served 11 days of a two-week sentence for her involvement.

Related content: Texas Governor Abbott Orders Admissions Probes

Related content: USC Fires Top Athletics Administrators Over Scandal

Center was a college head coach for 27 years, including 18 at Texas. He was named the U.S. Professional Tennis Association National College Coach of the Year in 2007. Center led Texas to the NCAA Championship in all 18 of his seasons, including three trips to the Final Four. Texas won the 2019 national championship after Center was fired.

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