Coaches accused in bribery scandal wielded outsize authority
By JIM VERTUNO
AP Sports Writer
Friday, March 15
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Coach Gordie Ernst’s Georgetown University tennis teams didn’t win any Big East championships. At Wake Forest, Bill Ferguson’s volleyball teams struggled near the bottom of their conference.
At Stanford, John Vandemoer’s sailing teams were nationally ranked but competed in a sport that isn’t governed by the NCAA.
All three were coaching lower-tier sports, not the glamorous, big-money ones, basketball and football. And yet, win or lose, these coaches did have something incredibly valuable: the keys that can get students into some of the most exclusive colleges in America.
And now they face criminal charges they leveraged that authority to enrich themselves or their sports programs.
Federal indictments unsealed this week outlined a sweeping college admissions scandal in which coaches allegedly took bribes from wealthy parents to help falsify their children’s sports credentials and designate them as recruited athletes.
Whether it’s football, basketball or “non-revenue” sports like tennis or water polo, private and public colleges with even the most rigorous academic standards for admission lower the bar for student athletes. They do it because they want to win championships at all levels.
“If you are going to pay for it and compete, why would you not want to win?” said Nellie Drew, a sports law expert at the University at Buffalo School of Law. “Stanford has more Olympic athletes than many countries. They are proud of that.”
Coaches of the smaller, so-called Olympic sports get paid far less than their football and basketball counterparts. Salaries for such coaches in the Ivy League and similar private schools can range from $75,000 to over $200,000.
At Texas, 18-year men’s tennis coach Michael Center was paid $232,000 compared with nearly $5.5 million for football coach Tom Herman.
Those salary figures could make a coach of a lower-tier sport more likely to at least think about taking a bribe, Drew said.
“If you think your job is on the line and someone offers you more money than you are going to make in three years, sure, you are going to look at that,” Drew said.
Center is accused of accepting nearly $100,000 to “recruit” a non-tennis-playing student to help get him into school in 2015. Authorities allege that included a $60,000 installment paid in the parking lot of an Austin hotel. Once enrolled, the student never played.
Ernst, who also was the personal tennis coach for former first lady Michelle Obama and her daughters, Malia and Sasha, is alleged to have taken more than $2.7 million in bribes to list 12 applicants as recruits for the Georgetown tennis team.
In many of the cases alleged in the indictments, the students “recruited” had little or no experience in the sport involved and didn’t play once they got into college.
So how does it work?
Coaches are allotted a certain number of slots for special admission for athletes who might not meet the usual academic standards. And generally, when coaches make their pitch for certain students to the admissions office, they get their way.
The total number of such slots per school is set by its conference, and schools decide how to spread them among their programs. The spots are usually considered precious.
That a coach would use one of those for a student who never intended to play is surprising, said Fordham athletic director David Roach, who was also the women’s swim coach and athletic director at Brown University.
“When I coached, you couldn’t give me enough money to give up a slot because I wanted to have a good team,” Roach said. “I’m sure now people are going to be questioned — coaches, when they turn their list in — and say, ‘Give me more information.’”
The sports involved in the bribery scandal typically don’t award full scholarships. Instead, coaches divide scholarships into fractions and spread the money around. In the Ivy League, schools don’t give athletic scholarships but do offer financial aid.
Among those indicted were UCLA men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo and former University of Southern California women’s soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin. Former USC women’s soccer assistant coach Laura Janke, water polo coach Jovan Vavic and athletic administrator Donna Heinel also were charged.
Schools now must address whether they will change internal policies and police their programs on admissions. The NCAA has called the bribery allegations “troubling” and said it will examine whether its rules have been violated.
The charges do not accuse the coaches of skirting the admissions rules to gain an advantage on the field. But the NCAA has rules regarding ethical conduct by coaches.
In a transcript of a recorded telephone call, Center suggested he used some of the money on a tennis facility Texas was building in 2015. Vandemoer’s attorney said that $270,000 in alleged bribes went straight into the sailing program, not the coach’s pocket.
Georgetown officials said Ernst left in December 2017 after an internal investigation found he violated admissions rules. The school said it now checks its rosters to see if students recruited as athletes are still playing.
AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.
The rich are no smarter than you
By Matthew Johnson
Nothing makes me angrier than stupid rich people getting unfair advantages. These same entitled rich people then turn around and fight against so-called “entitlement” programs and affirmative action because they seem to think their achievements are based on merit while the rest of us who actually work for a living—or at least try to—are nothing more than lazy freeloaders or unscrupulous “welfare queens” who deserve to die if we can’t afford our hospital bill.
Now we see some richies arrested for lying, bribing and cheating to get unfair advantages for their offspring. To hell with them and their unearned privilege. May they suffer the indignity of a second-rate college or otherwise rot in a minimum-security prison.
The college bribery scandal is just the latest example of what anyone who’s been paying attention should already know: the United States is not a meritocracy. The biggest marker of success seems to be the zip code you are born into—regardless of how talented, intelligent, or charismatic you are. The Horatio Alger story has gone from mythical to fraudulent.
The real tragedy is that many average people, whose parents cannot afford to spend millions to send them to Harvard, operate under the assumption that a person’s financial net worth is equivalent to actual worth. I blame this primarily on our education system and our mainstream media, both of which do the masses a grave injustice by shielding them from class-based analysis.
I recall learning about Helen Keller and watching “Miracle Worker” as early as elementary school. Missing from the lessons was the important detail that Keller, who joined the Socialist Party of America as an adult, acknowledged that she would not have achieved personal success—much less celebrity status—if she had not been born of wealthy parents. This would have been a far more useful classroom discussion-starter than questions about overcoming disability that omit any mention of class or other structural considerations. I was led to believe in my formative years, thanks to public schools, that every achievement, no matter how suspicious or improbable, can be attributed solely to personal ambition and talent.
The mainstream media took over where schooling left off. It’s no exaggeration to say that media personalities are obsessed with actors, athletes, monomaniacs, zealots, wealthy entrepreneurs, eccentric politicians, and anyone else who can be spotlighted rather than contextualized. To put it simply, we do not celebrate team players—we celebrate ball hogs. We celebrate people who would suffocate their own twin just so that they could emerge from the womb a little sooner. And when I say “we,” I am talking about everyone—even those of us who stand to gain nothing from this celebrity-obsessed culture except the juvenile diversion of vicarious living.
Think of what the common people would gain from a feature story that, instead of lionizing a mediocre celebrity, questioned whether he or she was worth such honorifics in the first place. The reporters could scrutinize the celebrity’s past performance in school, talk to the friends they had before they were famous, browse their tax returns, learn how they performed on standardized tests, and so on. This is what journalism is supposed to be but often is not. What if they had produced stories like this in 2016 about Trump and ran them on the major networks as often as they ran his childish-rants? I doubt he would have garnered many votes.
But instead, we as Americans pretend as if every rich person is smarter, more attractive, or otherwise better than we are because we didn’t win the (zip-code) lottery. We like celebrities for the sole reason that they are celebrities. We let our inadequate education and uncritical media determine how we think about those with more power and privilege. This serves the purpose of keeping us in intellectual chains so that we would never dare organize ourselves and challenge these two-bit oppressors with their baseless braggadocio and ghastly comb-overs. Most of us would rather be them than fight them.
Please. The rich are no smarter than you. But they think they are, they want to you think that, and they are pushing you around like you’re the small kid on the playground. They have been stealing your lunch money and sense of self-respect for generations.
What are you going to do about it?
Matt Johnson, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is co-author of Trumpism.
The Real College Admissions Scandal
Wealthy families have rigged college admissions for generations, but they want you to blame affirmative action.
By Jessicah Pierre | March 20, 2019
In what’s being called the largest college admissions scam ever, a number of wealthy parents, celebrities, and college prep coaches have been accused of offering large bribes to get rich students into Ivy League schools, regardless of their credentials.
The parents facing charges allegedly paid up to $6.5 million to get their kids into college.
Shocking as it is, this is hardly a new phenomenon in higher education. Wealthy and privileged students have always had an upper hand in being accepted to prestigious universities.
They’re called “legacy preferences.”
“Many U.S. colleges admit ‘legacies,’ or students with a family connection to the university, at dramatically higher rates than other applicants,” The Guardian explains, because “they are widely seen as a reliable source of alumni donations.”
Some of our countries most prominent figures have benefited from legacy preferences. When applying to Harvard, future president John F. Kennedy noted that his father was an alumnus. And although his academic record was unspectacular, he was admitted into the Ivy League school.
The same can be said for George W. Bush, whose father and grandfather graduated from Yale. Despite his “lackluster grades,” The Guardian reported, Bush was accepted.
This overt — and legal — preference for the wealthy and powerful goes back at least a century. Yet when the children of middle class families are denied admission, some families have laid the blame on affirmative action programs for students of color, who’ve historically faced discrimination.
As the college admissions process becomes more competitive, campaigns against affirmative action have revved up immensely. In 2016, Abigail Fisher challenged the University of Texas at Austin’s race-conscious admissions program after being rejected when she applied for a university program designed for the top 10 percent of her class.
Despite not having the credentials to get into the program, Fisher cited affirmative action as the reason why she was denied. In other words, she claimed she was being discriminated against because she was white. Her case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that affirmative action is in fact constitutional and doesn’t hurt white students.
In fact, even with programs like affirmative action, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, racial divides at universities still remain. While college enrollment is increasing across the board, it found that enrollment rates for college-aged white students (42 percent) remain higher than for both black students (36 percent) and Hispanic students (39 percent.)
Meanwhile, a 2018 analysis of Harvard’s admissions process found that legacy applicants were accepted at a rate of nearly 34 percent from 2009 to 2015. That’s more than five times higher than the rate for non-legacies over the same six-year period: just 5.9 percent.
It’s clear that students like Abigail Fisher are picking the wrong fight when it comes to discrimination in the college admissions process.
The high-level of corruption of legacy admissions hurts the majority of students, regardless of race. So too do the parents spending millions on bribes. But that’s how inequality thrives.
Today’s college admissions scandal is just another illustration of the rich encouraging working- and middle-class people to turn against each other — and blame people of color — while they quietly rig the game for themselves.
Instead of pointing the finger at each other, the victims of these manipulations should come together to take the monster of economic privilege down.
Jessicah Pierre is the inequality media specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies.
College admission scandal grew out of a system that was ripe for corruption
March 13, 2019
Recruited athletes often get a leg up in the admissions process.
Author: Rick Eckstein, Professor of Sociology, Villanova University
Disclosure statement: Rick Eckstein does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
As part of the “Operation Varsity Blues” case that federal prosecutors announced March 12, dozens of people – including Hollywood actresses and wealthy businessmen – stand accused of having bought their children’s way into elite colleges and universities.
As a researcher who has studied how young athletes get admitted to college, I don’t see a major difference between this admission fraud case and how many wealthy families can buy their children’s way into elite colleges through “back” and “side” doors.
In my research, I show how most intercollegiate sports are fed by wildly expensive “pay to play” youth sports pipelines. These pipelines systematically exclude lower income families. It takes money to attend so-called “showcase tournaments” to get in front of recruiters.
In many ways, then, those ensnared in the current criminal case – which alleges that they paid for their children to get spots on the sports teams of big name schools – couldn’t have succeeded if the college admissions process wasn’t already biased toward wealthier families.
Bypassing the front door
Even if college sports is taken out of the equation, the college admissions process already favors wealthy families in a variety of ways.
It has long been known that higher family income usually correlates with higher standardized test scores. There are many test prep companies, including some that guarantee higher scores for approximately US$1,000. Taking advantage of test prep may not be “fraud.” But it certainly provides advantages to the wealthy that have little to do with academic merit.
In his book “The Price of Admission,” Daniel Golden highlights a number of other ways wealthy families can buy their way into elite universities. These include large donations, financing new buildings, creating endowments and playing on parents’ celebrity status. These also have little to do with an applicant’s academic merit, but would never be considered criminal.
Sociologist David Karen has documented how attendance at expensive boarding schools gives wealthy students an admissions advantage to Ivy League universities. That may not be fraudulent, but it certainly seems unfair.
Athletics and admission advantages
So how do the wealthy get an advantage when it comes to college athletics? Research has shown that recruited athletes receive the largest admissions advantages independent of academic merit.
The advantage varies by sport and athletic division, but is almost universal within higher education. Many sports – particularly squash, lacrosse, fencing and rowing – are pricey to play, so rich kids get opportunities that are out of reach for the poor. Even non-elite sports such as soccer and softball are subject to class-based restrictions.
Many sports are out of reach for children from families of lesser means. from www.shutterstock.com
The Mellon Foundation’s report “College and Beyond” found that recruited athletes with lower academic credentials get admitted at four times the rate of non-athletes with similar credentials.
In the Varsity Blues case, some students’ parents essentially bought their children’s spot on a team. For instance, Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer is charged with accepting contributions to the sailing program in exchange for recommending two prospective students. He pleaded guilty March 12.
How could a coach pull off this sleight of hand without drawing attention?
The answer, I believe, lies in the growing role of intercollegiate sports in adding some predictability to the very unpredictable enrollment process. Schools want to lock prospective students in as quickly as possible. College athletes are generally admitted through a school’s early decision process. As the proportion of admitted athletes increases, so does the proportion of locked-in applicants.
Colleges also benefit by admitting more students early since those people are not part of acceptance rate calculations. The result is a lower acceptance rate, which inflates the school’s perceived selectivity. This in turn spurs an increase in future applications, which further lowers the acceptance rate – and again increases perceived selectivity – without any objective changes in the actual quality of teaching and research.
College sports teams are an increasingly attractive venue for locking in these early admissions. It is not unusual to have 30 or 40 players on a college soccer or lacrosse team. Most will never play. Women’s crew teams often have more than 100 rowers. Most will never get into a boat. Many will quit the team after one season but remain students.
Of course, because a family can afford to have their child play a sport doesn’t mean the student is a good athlete. The pipeline system is far better at identifying the best payers rather than the best players. Since scholarships are quite rare, it costs colleges almost nothing to have some bad players on the roster. And there are benefits.
I’m certainly not defending the families and entrepreneurs at the heart of the Varsity Blues scandal for breaking the law to take advantage of a system already fraught with inequalities. The prosecutors in this case have insisted that “there can be no separate admissions system for the wealthy.” For that to be true, current practices that favor deep-pocketed families would have to be abandoned. That will require much more than prosecuting a few people who use their wealth to take advantage of an admissions process that already favors the rich.
Izzo, Self among the college coaches who shined this season
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Basketball Writer
Monday, March 18
Given the track record that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and Kansas counterpart Bill Self have put together over the years, it is hardly surprising nobody felt much sympathy for them this season.
The Spartans had to replace standouts Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson along with veteran guard Tum Tum Nairn, lost Josh Langford to a season-ending injury and played without Nick Ward for several weeks because of a hand injury. They still managed to win the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles, and were rewarded with a No. 2 seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament.
“I’ve never been prouder of a team in my life,” Izzo said. “Coaches say that every time after they win and year after year, and I’ve had some incredible teams and incredible guys, but what these guys have been through nobody will ever know.”
The Jayhawks played amid the specter of an FBI investigation into apparel partner Adidas, lost big man Udoka Azubuike to a season-ending wrist injury, and watched veteran guard Lagerald Vick leave late in the season for personal issues. Yet the Jayhawks still reached the Big 12 Tournament title game and earned the fourth-seed in a stacked Midwest Region.
Good luck finding two better coaching jobs in college basketball this season.
Izzo and Self aren’t alone in overcoming adversity, though, nor are they unique in leading their programs to unexpectedly strong seasons. Here are some other top coaching jobs as the NCAA Tournament gets ready to begin with First Four matchups in Dayton, Ohio:
DANA ALTMAN, Oregon
The Ducks lost 7-foot-2 center Bol Bol to an injury — and they’re likely to lose him to the NBA now — and underachieved for much of the season. But after adding Francis Okoro to the lineup to create a starting unit with four guys at 6-9 alongside Payton Pritchard, the Ducks found their stride. They rolled to a Pac-12 Tournament title and are the No. 12 seed in the South.
“We had a lot of ups and downs. All of us were frustrated, the coaching staff, the players,” Altman said, “but the resolve they showed to fight back and to really become a team and play for each other, it was really neat to see.”
BUZZ WILLIAMS, Virginia Tech
The Hokies lost point guard Justin Robinson to a foot injury in late January, but managed to stay afloat down the stretch. Their beat a Zion Williamson-less Duke to stay in the ACC mix and earn the No. 4 seed in the East.
MIKE YOUNG, Wofford
The Terriers were picked to finish second in the Southern Conference, but they went 29-4 and never lost a league contest. In fact, their only defeats came against Oklahoma, North Carolina, Kansas and Mississippi State — all teams that are dancing. Wofford was rewarded for playing that tough schedule, too. Young’s team is the No. 7 seed in the Midwest and will open against Seton Hall with a potential showdown with Kentucky looming.
NATE OATS, Buffalo
After taking over Buffalo in 2015 following two seasons under Bobby Hurley, Oats has the Bulls playing in the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season. They beat Arizona in the tournament last season and have been even better this season, and that means the sixth-seeded team in the West Region could be poised to make a March run.
“I have been extremely impressed on how he has built this program to one that deserves national attention and respect,” said Buffalo athletic director Mark Alnutt, who recently rewarded Oats with a new five-year contract in the hopes of keeping bigger suitors at bay.
BRUCE WEBER, Kansas State
The Wildcats lost star forward Dean Wade for long stretches of the season, including the entire Big 12 Tournament. They also played several games without point guard Kamau Stokes and backup guard Cartier Diarra. Yet they stilled tied Texas Tech for the regular-season Big 12 crown and earned the No. 4 seed in the South.
KELVIN SAMPSON, Houston
Yes, he still carries the baggage of NCAA violations at Indiana, but nobody can argue Sampson can’t coach. He inherited a program that was 13-19 four years ago and turned it into a power, following an NCAA Tournament bid last year with its best season in decades.
“You always focus on the next practice, the next game, the next meeting, the next this, the next that,” said Sampson, whose third-seeded Cougars open against Georgia State in the Midwest Region. “I have got a great group of young men, I’m very honored and lucky to be able to coach them every day and it’s been a fun ride and we’ll ride it as long as we can.”
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