Admissions Scandal Involving Fake Scholar-Athletes Rocks Higher Education

by Bob Smith

“Oh what a tangled web we weave,

When first we practise to deceive!”

Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17.

Scottish author & novelist (1771 - 1832)

It reads like a script for a made-for-TV movie: indictments, complaints, guilty pleas and arrests of dozens of people including TV actresses and other persons of wealth and fame in a college admissions scam involving, among other things, millions of dollars; bribes to coaches; bribes to administrators of college entrance tests; phony test takers; altered test scores; and the creation of fake athletic profiles for children who do not even play the sport has captured public attention and gone viral. The man behind the scam entered a guilty plea and is cooperating with law enforcement, including the secret taping of his clients. College coaches may be headed to jail along with SAT/ACT test administrators as well as some parents. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, among others, suggests the now exposed scam is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. He may well be correct.

Federal prosecutors did not file charges against any of the colleges and have said that there is no evidence implicating the schools in the nationwide bribery scheme. Today’s news brings dozens of statements by the colleges denying culpability in the fraudulent scheme. Yet the public is left convinced that this latest scandal is further proof that the admissions system is rigged.

The current indictments involve coaches at Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and USC, and a number of other members of the NCAA Division I which has 347-member colleges. Including NCAA Divisions II and III, more than 460,000 student-athletes participate each year in 24 sports at more than 1,100 NCAA member institutions. Many of the colleges, if not most, give an admissions preference to athletes and permit coaches varying degrees of influence over the admissions decision. The system is ripe for exploitation and abuse at many levels. Given the sheer numbers; the competitiveness of college admissions and the willingness of parents to use all means at their disposal to secure a spot for their kid and bragging rights for themselves, it is more likely than not that similar incidents exist at many more than the dozen or so colleges whose coaches were named in the just released court documents.

Higher education administrators and their lawyers are (or should be) investigating and examining their policies and practices favoring the admission of student athletes and asking hard questions of their coaches, athletic directors and admissions personnel as well as persons involved in the growth industry of college admissions “helpers” in a sincere effort to be sure their college either has a clean bill of health or has taken all appropriate measures to identify and disclose fraudulent practices infecting their process before law enforcement comes knocking again at the Ivory Tower doors. The reputational harm flowing from this scandal is simply incalculable. Perhaps the innocent students and families of truly qualified scholar-athletes will sue over their denied opportunities caused by the criminal behavior of college personnel. The costs of defense would be significant, to say nothing of the potential damages awarded should the denied applicants triumph in litigation. Much of the inquiry will focus on the age-old questions of “who knew, what did they know and when did they know it”.

When bad things happen at any institution, it is ineluctably best to get out in front of the wave and lead with ethics and integrity to level the playing field and demonstrate that the system is fair.

* We link the available court documents from the United States District Court in Massachusetts as the original source documents tell the story far better and, in more detail, than any news outlet possibly could or would before moving on to tomorrow’s hot item. They tell a fascinating story of corruption.

Categories: Announcements, Blog Posts, News
Posted on Mar | 2019
Experienced Advocates | Effective Solutions