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Archive for March 13, 2019

March 13, 2019 — A once-in-a-generation scandal

A couple of decades ago, I first got wind of a group of chemists and bodybuilders who had hit upon a so-called “designer drug” that would be untraceable by the technologies of the time. My first thought was that the ramifications of such a discovery — and its use — was going to be enormous.

The BALCO scandal resulted in the indictment and imprisonment of dozens of professional and amateur athletes and their handlers, as well as the ruination of a number of athletic competitions, including pro cycling and baseball. It also resulted in a very soft ban on the entire Russian Olympic delegation to the PyeongChang Olympics last year.

Which brings us to this past weekend. This site noticed a couple of news items, one at Louisiana State and one at the University of Pennsylvania, which involved bribery and dealmaking in order to get student-athletes admitted to a particular college. Of course, given the cesspool of college athletics these days and the recent removal of Rick Pitino as head basketball coach at Louisville under sordid circumstances, this was to be expected.

But yesterday, there was an indictment involving non-student-athletes. In Boston, an indictment was unsealed in Federal court. The indictment names some 50 people indicted on charges of mail fraud and other types of corruptive conspiracies involving college admissions, including the facilitation of admission for student-athletes, many of whom would never have survived a few days’ worth of practice, much less a season.

In one situation outlined in the charging documents, one parent arranged for his daughter to apply to the University of Southern California with a fake athletic profile showing her as a good lacrosse player. The broker in the deal facilitated the payment of some $55,000 to the university, a sum of money that resulted in an IRS audit about a month after the last payment. The indictment is silent as to whether the student was ever admitted, but it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that the student never got onto the lacrosse team, one of the top up-and-coming programs in the country.

Southern California is one of a number of schools which have been implicated in this scheme. Others include the University of San Diego, Yale, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, and UCLA.

A number of college coaches have been named in the indictment. Mind you, there aren’t any household names in the group like Pitino, but the majority of the coaches named do have a couple of things in common. One was the prevalence of the fraud amongst women’s sports. Also, these were sports like soccer and tennis, ones which student and local media, the general public, and the student body widely ignored, meaning that there would not be scrutiny.

In a couple of instances, the team mentioned is women’s rowing — a sport that has grown rapidly over the last 20 years because it is an expensive sport requiring an enormous investment in equipment and infrastructure, plus sizable rosters that can balance out the lavish spending afforded big-time college football teams.

But that’s not even the most damning part of the indictment. The eye-opener here is the background of the 35 people who engineered the acceptances of their children into these universities on a student-athlete pretense.

Though the media has been fixated on two Hollywood actresses, the rest of the defendants are people of wealth and privilege. There are several entrepreneurs, a couple of professional investors, equity fund managers, investment firm founders, real estate investors, and the co-chairman of a law firm. These are the 1% of American wealth, people who are very casual with other people’s money.

It kind of reminds you of the scandals involving rich and powerful parents who give millions of dollars to universities. Elizabeth Paige Laurie, an heiress to the Wal-Mart fortune, was forced to give back a degree from the University of Southern California when it was proven that she bribed other people to write term papers for her. At the same time, the University of Missouri had put her name on an on-campus sports arena, an arrangement that was withdrawn after the scandal at USC.

And then, there was the story of Charles Kushner, who, after schmoozing with a part of U.S. Senators, gained an audience with the director of admissions at Harvard. That meeting, plus a donation of $2.5 million, resulted in the matriculation of a student that, according to the guidance counselor at his school, was not Harvard material.

That student, Jared Kushner, now has a top-secret security clearance and is married to the daughter of the President of the United States.

And so it goes.