Tuesday was already going to be busy enough for the Texas men’s tennis team.
The Longhorns had a match scheduled against Rice, a precursor to Thursday’s duel with No. 1 Ohio State. Senior Harrison Scott also had a birthday to celebrate.
In reality, though, the buzz around the Texas Tennis Center on Tuesday evening had little to do with UT’s 5-2 win or Scott’s birthday plans. A dozen media members — one of which was from Houston — hadn’t shifted their coverage plans just because head coach Michael Center had said outside a courthouse earlier in the day that his team was “a lot more fun than I am.”
Center was among those indicted on Tuesday as a part of a sweeping federal investigation that one U.S. attorney called “the largest college admission scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.” Center is accused of taking a bribe and falsely masking an incoming freshman as a tennis recruit in 2015. His attorney said Tuesday that Center will plead not guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
Center, in his 19th season at Texas, has been placed on administrative leave. Associate head coach Bruce Berque is the interim head coach.
“Believe it or not, I’ve probably read less of what you’re speaking of than anybody else in this facility today because we have been very, very busy,” Berque said Tuesday night. “I’ve kind of skimmed through that stuff, but I know so little about it that I really wouldn’t want to comment.” Texas did not make any players available to be interviewed after the match.
No players had any contact with Center on Tuesday, to Berque’s knowledge; a team meeting was held earlier in the day after the news broke. “They had a lot of questions,” he said. “They wanted to know more. Unfortunately, we couldn’t tell them more. I couldn’t tell them more, Chris Del Conte couldn’t tell them more.”
Berque has worked under Center since the 2014-15 season. He previously led the tennis program at Michigan from 2004-14.
On Tuesday he presided over Texas’ workmanlike win over the visiting Owls. Texas took the doubles point and had Chih Chi Huang, Yuya Ito, Colin Markes and Scott win their singles matches. Junior Christian Sigsgaard, the Longhorns’ top-seeded player, lost his singles match against Sumit Sarkar.
If No. 4 Texas was expecting to generate any headlines this week, it had planned on waiting until Thursday’s home showdown against No. 1-ranked Ohio State. Last month in Chicago, Texas (15-1) was swept by Ohio State in the semifinals of the ITA’s indoor championships.
“We just played Ohio State a couple weeks ago and we lost,” Berque said. “These guys are going to super hungry to have a chance to play them at home. No, I wouldn’t be concerned about losing focus in the next few days.”