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Greedy parents, soulless coaches: The new college admissions racket

Yahoo! Sports logo Yahoo! Sports 3/12/2019 Pat Forde
a group of people standing in front of a building: Students walk on campus at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. (AP) © Provided by Oath Inc. Students walk on campus at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. (AP)

I'm trying to decide which group of people I like less today: the greedy parents who bought their children a fake athletic scholarship to an elite school, or the soulless coaches and administrators who took the bribes.

If the stunning federal racketeering, bribery and fraud charges presented Tuesday bear out, both groups of people will get what they deserve — prison sentences. Though I'd be in favor of turning the jail time into work release scrubbing toilets at the nearest community college. At least they would be cleaning up after people who are trying to honestly earn their way through the education system.

Every kid who tried every legitimate means of getting into the school of their dreams and got rejected is mad today. And they should be. For every kid who got a bogus admittance to a USC, a Stanford, a Georgetown, an Ivy League school, thanks to a fake test score or a fake athletic profile, someone else was turned away.

As some readers may know, my personal experience is in swimming. I've been through the college athletic recruiting and admissions process three times as a father. I've watched many friends and acquaintances go through it. The insanity that comes along with it is real.

One of the sadder rites of passage in navigating through youth sports is when the realization hits parents of young athletes: There isn't going to be a free ride to the college of little Johnny or Suzy's dreams waiting at the end.

For a very select few there will be, but scholarship opportunities are finite, especially in Olympic sports. For coaches and administrators to give those away — at a cost to the quality of their own teams — is mind boggling. Hopefully they enjoyed their bribe-funded vacations or cars in exchange for telling legitimate student-athletes, “Sorry, we can't get you into school.”

For most athletes, there will be no full scholarship. Maybe the kids turned out to not be as good at their sport as was hoped and envisioned. Or parents find out that scholarships are few and often carved up into fractions.

So the competition for those small pieces of scholarship — and with them, tickets to admission — becomes crazy.

Parents push their kids through a gauntlet of extracurricular activities to enhance a college application. They look for a secret formula, often as an end-around on the hard work necessary for improvement: personal coaches, private tutors, essay consultants, changing teams, changing schools, asking friends of friends to grease the skids, etc.

Or, if you are really rich, you can just buy your kid a spot in an admissions scam.

I'd love to ask the parents involved in these cases a couple of questions:

* Do you want your kid to go to USC or Stanford or Georgetown or Yale for yourself, or for him/her?

* Did your kid do everything in his/her power to get there before you called in the scam?

Because I've watched kids do everything they could. Not just mine, but many others.

I've watched them walk into Mary T. Meagher Natatorium in Louisville, Kentucky, at 4:45 a.m., in the dead of winter, three times a week ready to train. I've watched them come back after school and get in the water at 3:30 to do it again. Then I've watched them get out and hit the weight room before going home to study.

There are soccer players and lacrosse players and gymnasts and rowers and wrestlers and runners all over the country doing the same thing — putting in the work, asking for no favors or short cuts, with hopes of a chance to do it in college. Those kids deserve the scholarships and the special admits.

Of course, this is the Faustian bargain universities made when they decided to embrace sports. When they signed on for lower admissions standards for athletes, they created this loophole through which the rich and shameless could wiggle in.

As the federal complaint stated: "All of the Universities also recruit students with demonstrated athletic abilities, and typically apply different criteria when evaluating applications from such students, with the expectation that recruited athletes will be contributing members of the Universities' athletic teams once enrolled. Typically, the admissions offices at the Universities allot a set number of admission slots to each head coach of a varsity sport for that coach's recruited athletes. At each of the Universities, the admissions prospects of recruited athletes are higher—and in some cases substantially higher—than those of non-recruited athletes with similar grades and standardized test scores.

"Student athletes recruited by coaches at USC and UCLA, for example, are typically considered by designated admissions committees, which give consideration to their athletic abilities, and may admit applicants whose grades and standardized test scores are below those of other USC or UCLA students, including non-recruited athletes. At Wake Forest, as another example, approximately 128 admissions slots are designated for athletic recruitment, and recruited students are typically assured of admission to the university provided they meet certain minimum academic standards. Similarly, at Georgetown, approximately 158 admissions slots are allocated to athletic coaches, and students recruited for those slots have substantially higher admissions prospects than non-recruited students."

We know that reality in my house.

My oldest son had excellent academic credentials but applied for general admission at Stanford as a non-athlete and was rejected. He wasn't a fast-enough swimmer, and at the time he applied wasn't even planning to swim in college.

My daughter had very good academic credentials — nearly on par with her oldest brother's. She was one of the top swimmers in the nation in the graduating class of 2017. She was accepted, thanks to being an elite athlete. (She's done very well academically at Stanford and I'd love to brag on her grade-point average, but she would kill me.)

After being rejected by Stanford, my oldest had a breakthrough senior season and did decide to try college swimming. Northwestern, Notre Dame, Georgetown and Virginia recruited him and he would have had no problem getting into all those schools. It might have been a closer call without the push from athletics.

Similarly, my younger son was for a time interested in swimming at Duke. We were surprised to find out how much easier it would be to gain admission there as a swimmer than as a non-athlete. (Basketball is one thing; swimming is another.) He got recruiting letters and calls from the military academies and Ivy League schools. He did a junior day visit at Northwestern and sat down with coaches from Notre Dame — all thanks to being an athlete.

So, yeah, being an athlete can have its reward when it comes to college admissions. You just hope that those being rewarded are actual athletes, who actually did the work to deserve the spots. The reward shouldn't go to a rich child whose golden ticket was purchased in a sham transaction between a crazy parent and a soulless coach.

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