“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:
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.