Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: From football and basketball to … tennis and sailing? College corruption is everywhere

It used to be that it was the high-profile sports that we heard about when it comes to cheating, not the smaller ones. Not anymore.

Posted March 12th, 2019

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Don’t you miss the good old days when boosters were the ones delivering bags of money to recruits to get them to sign with their schools?

Well, the tide has definitely changed.

Rich people are using their influence to buy their children into college, as if their heirs didn’t have enough advantages over other hard-working kids who had to earn their way in. What happened to the days when the rich could just erect a building at their alma mater to curry favor? Not exactly ethical, but not illegal either.

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Local news media film through a window as Texas men’’s tennis coach Michael Center (left) talks with his defense lawyer before exiting the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Austin on Tuesday. (RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The early findings coming out of Operation Varsity Blues are different because this isn’t all about the major sports. Stanford sailing. Yale soccer. Texas tennis. Wake Forest volleyball. Those programs don’t produce millions like football and basketball do, but their coaches allegedly pocketed fat cash to improve the admission statuses of students, many of whom weren’t even athletes.

Longhorns tennis coach Michael Center went to jail Tuesday because he accepted a $100,000 bribe to designate a regular joe as a tennis recruit in 2015, investigators allege. The fake recruit “quit” the tennis team and went about his business as a UT student. His dad, according to the investigation, made another $450,000 payment to the cooperating witness’ company.

Center makes over $200,000 a year — he isn’t starving — but apparently decided he couldn’t pass up a $100,000 bag handed his way in a hotel parking lot.

“Integrity in admissions is vital to the academic and ethical standards of our university,” UT said in a statement. If we’re to take that seriously and the allegations are proven to be true, Center — who, according to his lawyer, will plead not guilty — should be terminated as should any other coaches, at Texas or elsewhere, who took money. Athletic director Chris Del Conte won’t have to pull the trigger. UT President Greg Fenves will. This thing is much bigger than athletics.

William Singer, the head of the California-based Key Worldwide Foundation, is reportedly at the center of the investigation after accepting $25 million in bribes from wealthy people over a period of eight years.

When you read about USC senior athletics director Donna Heinel allegedly pocketing more than a $1.3 million in bribes for manufactured athletic credentials, it starts to feel like the more high-profile scandals in the major sports like football and basketball are only the tip of the iceberg. Somewhere along the line, they overlooked the little guys. Not anymore.

There’s a hidden-in-plain-sight dynamic that’s been at play for years. Somewhere along the line, someone talked and the FBI sunk its teeth — and substantial investigative resources — into these cases. The feds followed the money and an explosion happened.

They’re reeling in more fish as we speak.

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

RELATED: ‘I wouldn’t be concerned about losing focus in the next few days’: Texas reacts to coach’s indictment

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