University of Texas: Controls Didn't Catch Coach in College Admission Scandal Because Actions Were 'Unthinkable'

No one expected a coach to accept a bribe for falsely recruiting athletes, so the University of Texas' controls weren't prepared to prevent the college admission scandal.

A memorandum released Monday summarized a legal review of the athletic admissions practices at the Austin, Texas, university. Although much of the information was confidential, the report highlighted a number of findings and issued recommendations for the path forward.

The report characterized former Men's Tennis Coach Michael Center's conduct as "unthinkable." Since those involved in the athletics admissions process expected coaches to only recommend legitimate athletes, the school's controls didn't pick up on what occurred.

Center was one of many people indicted in March for playing a role in "Operation Varsity Blues," commonly referred to as the college admissions scandal. He was accused of accepting $100,000 in exchange for designating a prospective student as a recruit of the tennis team to facilitate the young man's admission to the state university.

The student was not a competitive tennis player and withdrew from the tennis team in 2015 shortly after classes started. Years later, in April, Center pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud.

Part of the way the school could prevent this from happening again, the report suggested, was to review the admission circumstances of student-athletes who quickly withdraw from the sport.

"A core goal of any fraud is to avoid detection," the memo said. "A student who is improperly admitted as a student-athlete cannot risk participating in activities that would expose the student's lack of athletic legitimacy."

university of texas college admission scandal
A Texas Longhorns flag during the 2018 AT&T Red River Showdown at Cotton Bowl on October 6, 2018, in Dallas. A recent legal review claimed that, because no one expected a coach to accept a bribe in exchange for recruiting a student as an athlete, the school's controls weren't able to prevent it. Ronald Martinez/Getty

Along with reviewing the existing exit interview program, the proposed policy change would amend practices to include examination of relevant records to validate the student-athlete's legitimacy if they leave the team within their first semester.

Center submitted the student's application materials to an athletics department administrator, which resulted in a scholarship that would enable the student to be compensated for his books. In April 2015, the applicant and his father signed a letter of intent and the applicant was added to the tennis team roster, according to the complaint.

The memo recommended that the athletics director clearly communicate the university's standard of student-athlete admissions to staff to ensure they only recommend prospective students based on approved reasons. On the chance someone still slips through, athletics staff should be trained to identify and effectively communicate concerns to administrators.

Simply talking about the situation wasn't enough to eliminate the risk of a student being admitted based on falsified information. The review identified a number of tasks that should be implemented to create a process that objectively validates prospective students, identified as:

  • A written assessment of each prospective student-athlete by the coaching staff that highlights representative athletic accomplishments and ratings from available independent sources.
  • Review of the assessment by athletics department leadership, prior to recommending admission of the prospective student-athlete.
  • Review of the assessment by the university's office of admissions to check that the assessment is complete, properly approved, and consistent with the student's application prior to an admissions decision.

The review's goal wasn't only to make recommendations for forging a path forward, it also sought to identify any other cases where the integrity of the admissions process was compromised. Aside from the student in the indictment, the review found no reason to believe any other student-athlete enrolled in the university between summer 2012 and spring 2017 was improperly admitted.

Center is scheduled to be sentenced on October 30 and faces up to 20 years in prison. However, the prosecution recommended incarceration at the low end of the sentencing range as part of his plea deal.