News broke yesterday morning that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts had filed charges in a nationwide college admissions scam in which individuals paid and accepted bribes to make prospective students more attractive to prestigious institutions.
The investigation — dubbed Operation Varsity Blues — involved cheating on college entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT, as well as falsifying athletic profiles to help gain prospective students preferred admissions status.
Among the dozens of individuals facing charges are a number of college athletics coaches and former coaches who, the Department of Justice alleges, accepted bribes "to facilitate the admission of students to elite universities under the guise of being recruited as athletes."
The scandal sent reverberations throughout the college sports landscape, and the details of the alleged fraud were shocking. Some athletics officials and coaches already have been terminated in the scandal's wake.
Parents worked with William "Rick" Singer, the owner of a college consulting and preparation company called the Edge College & Career Network and the CEO of the Key Worldwide Foundation, a purported charity. Parents of prospective students would use Singer's charity as a "side door" into universities via athletics, funneling money through "donations" directly to the programs controlled by coaches in return for children being elevated to athletic recruit status.
In addition to the bribes, Singer's entities would create false athletic "profiles" for purported student-athletes, in which fake honors and even phony or staged photographs were used.
The indictments include an example involving Yale, where a falsified athletic profile was sent to the school’s women’s soccer coach. The profile indicated that the prospective student was a co-captain of a prominent soccer team. Rudy Meredith, then Yale's coach, despite knowing the profile to be fake and that the prospective student was not in fact a competitive soccer player, designated her as a recruit. Upon securing the student's admission into Yale, Singer sent the coach a check for $400,000. Both Singer and Meredith agreed to plead guilty to the charges they faced, and began cooperating with the government's investigation.
The scheme had tendrils in a number of schools, and some high-profile individuals have already begun facing professional consequences for their involvement. Some of those individuals include:
- Stanford University head sailing coach John Vandemoer, who was terminated.
- USC senior associate AD Donna Heinel and men’s water polo coach Jovan Vavic, who were both terminated.
- Former Georgetown head tennis coach Gordon Ernst, who was at the school during his involvement in the scandal, was placed on leave by his current employer the University of Rhode Island.
- University of Texas men’s tennis coach Michael Center, who was placed on leave according to a statement from AD Chris Del Conte.
Statement from Chris Del Conte: pic.twitter.com/n7ePtMvsOQ— Texas Longhorns (@TexasLonghorns) March 12, 2019
- UCLA men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo, who was placed on leave.
- Wake Forest volleyball head coach Bill Ferguson, who was placed on leave.
Statement on Volleyball head coach Bill Ferguson: pic.twitter.com/kqR509AIo7— Wake Forest Sports (@DemonDeacons) March 12, 2019
The schools wrapped up in the scandal aren't facing any legal troubles, and are considered to be victims of fraud themselves.
As Bloomberg reports, part of why the scandal was able to unfold the way it did is because of the special deference coaches get when it comes to considering potential applicants. As the scandal unfolds, schools would do well to consider how they verify prospective students' admissions profiles.