In a world that seems to get more absurd by the day, the operative question seems to be, why not?
Texas Longhorns men’s tennis coach Michael Center was placed on leave by the school on Tuesday after his implication in a $25 million college admissions scheme scandal that has ensnared 50 people, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.
That’s right — Aunt Becky from “Full House” allegedly paid $500,000 have her daughters falsely labeled as members of the crew team for admissions purposes.
On the Texas side of the investigation, which was code-named Operation Varsity Blues, Center took more than $90,000 to award a partial tennis scholarship in 2015 for a student who didn’t play tennis, according to court documents.
“It’s a difficult day in our department, as we received reports that a member of our staff is accused of wrongdoing,” athletics director Chris Del Conte said in a statement. “As was discussed in the University’s statement earlier, our Men’s Tennis Coach, Michael Center, has been charged by federal authorities in a criminal effort involving admissions. We have placed Coach Center on leave until further notice while we cooperate with the federal law enforcement authorities in reviewing this situation. In the meantime, with our Men’s Tennis team in the middle of its competitive season, associate head coach Bruce Berque, will serve as our interim head coach going forward as we continue to gather information.”
A cooperating witness in the probe helped arrange Center’s bribe made by a third party, a man who lives in Houston. The student signed a National Letter of Intent, Center awarded the partial scholarship, and the student voluntarily withdrew from the tennis program after enrolling in school. He also renounced his partial scholarship at that time, allowing him to remain in school as a regular student.
In October, the cooperating witness called Center, who admitted in that phone call to taking more than $90,000 in bribes as part of the scheme, including a cash payment of about $60,000 made in a hotel parking lot.
“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in Boston. “This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud. There can be no separate college admission system for the wealthy, and I’ll add there will not be a separate criminal justice system either.”
The current scandal has echoes of a previous admissions scandal that, coincidentally enough, also broke during 2015, the same year that Center accepted those bribes. In that report, risk-management firm Kroll found that University of Texas president Bill Powers bypassed the admissions office to help as many as 73 undergraduate students receive admittance despite the fact that they were underqualified. According to Kroll, those actions, which aided wealthy, well-connected Texans, were also enabled by other wealthy, well-connected Texans to benefit privileged children — “affirmative action for the advantaged.”
So it goes.
[Wednesday 8:00 p.m update]: Center was dismissed by the school, with associate head coach Bruce Berque now serving as the interim head coach.
“After working with campus leaders to review the recent situation with Michael Center, we have decided to relieve him of his duties as our Men’s Tennis coach,” athletics director Chris Del Conte said. “It’s a very difficult decision, and we are grateful for the years of service that he has provided, but winning with integrity will always be paramount at The University of Texas, and it was a decision that had to be made.
“I’ve met with our team and assured them that we will do everything in our power to support them,” Del Conte added. “I also plan to reach out to all of our commitments, signees and their families immediately. I’m grateful for Coach Berque’s leadership during this challenging time. Our team is in the middle of a tremendous season, and I applaud them for how they’ve handled this situation, especially the way they responded in their match on Tuesday.”