BEVO BEAT Tennis

Texas fires men’s tennis coach Michael Center in wake of college admissions scandal

Athletic director Chris Del Conte said decision ‘had to be made’; Interim coach Bruce Berque to take over rest of the season

Posted March 13th, 2019

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One day after putting men’s tennis coach Michael Center on paid administrative leave, Texas officials announced Wednesday he had been fired in the wake of a college admissions scandal.

Center was arrested around 6 a.m. Tuesday at his Austin home as FBI investigators revealed that 50 people, including nine coaches, were allegedly helping wealthy parents get their children into high-profile schools under false pretense.

According to an arrest affidavit, Center accepted $100,000 bribe to help a regular student from Los Altos Hills, Calif., get into UT labeled as a tennis recruit in 2015. The student did not play high school tennis, according to investigators. Citing federal privacy laws, the university has not acknowledged whether the student in question was still enrolled. 

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“Winning with integrity will always be paramount at the University of Texas, and it was a decision that had to be made,” athletic director Chris Del Conte said in a statement.

Center did not immediately respond to voicemail or text messages left by the American-Statesman.

University president Gregory L. Fenves also announced the school will launch an internal investigation.

“I have asked Vice President for Legal Affairs Jim Davis to conduct a thorough review of the alleged 2015 fraud that Mr. Center has been charged with,” Fenves wrote in a campus-wide email. “And to determine whether the university has the necessary rules and procedures in place to prevent violations in the future.”

Fenves said thousands of people at UT conduct themselves with honor and distinction every day. “Any ethical breach overshadows their accomplishments and violates our culture of service and distinction,” the UT president wrote.

RELATED: Texas tennis coach Michael Center among coaches charged in sweeping college admissions scheme

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Eight schools across the country — including schools like Georgetown, Yale, USC and UCLA — addressed the FBI charges in various ways. USC fired an athletic department administrator and long-time water polo coach hours after their arrest on Tuesday, for example.

Texas officials announced within hours that Center was placed on administrative leave hours after news broke on Tuesday. The 54-year-old appeared in a federal courthouse in Austin at 2 p.m. Tuesday and was released on bail. By then, Del Conte had already announced that assistant coach Bruce Berque would become the team’s interim head coach.

Berque guided UT to a 5-2 win in a men’s duel match against Rice on Tuesday evening. No. 4 Texas hosts No. 1 Ohio State on Thursday.

“I’ve met with our team and assured them that we will do everything in our power to support them,” Del Conte said in a statement. “I also plan to reach out to all of our commitments, signees and their families immediately. I’m grateful for Coach Berque’s leadership during this challenging time.

Specifically addressing the players, Del Conte said, “Our team is in the middle of a tremendous season, and I applaud them for how they’ve handled this situation, especially the way they responded in their match on Tuesday.”

Center began this season with a 523-205 career record and was 365-137 in the previous 18 seasons at Texas. Under his guidance, the Longhorns reached the NCAA tournament all 18 seasons and made three trips to tennis’ version of the Final Four.

Texas was the national runner-up in 2008. Under Center, UT has produced 16 All-Americans, four Big 12 players of the year and four Big 12 titles.

Center is now scheduled for an appearance in a federal courthouse in Boston on March 25 before Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelley.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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