“In some ways, the bad news about the Varsity Blues scandal was that it was so extreme, it enabled people to think it was ‘them’ — and not us,” said Richard Weissbourd, a senior lecturer on education at Harvard who leads a national effort to reform college admissions as part of the Making Caring Common Project. Mr. Weissbourd said he had hoped the case would prompt a deeper self-examination by schools, in which “it would all be on the table — athletes, donors, legacy, the whole thing.”
More than 50 people were charged in the case, which involved cheating on admissions tests and bribes to college coaches to falsely designate students as athletic recruits. More than 40 people have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty, including William Singer, the college admissions consultant who worked with almost all of the families in the case.
No school was more deeply embroiled in the scandal than U.S.C. This week, the school acknowledged for the first time that the athletic department had passed off wealthy or connected applicants as recruits even more frequently than the college admissions case had revealed.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the university said it had discovered that, dating back to 2012, roughly a dozen students a year had been admitted as recruited athletes but ultimately did not compete. That included students who were not tied to Mr. Singer, but who were falsely presented as athletes because of “the past giving and/or potential future generosity of their families, or personal connections with employees in our athletics department,” the university said.
The university said the admissions department had been unaware of the fraud, which was perpetrated by “a small number of athletics department employees,” all of whom “have been disciplined and/or are no longer employed by the university.”
Since the case was announced in March 2019, U.S.C. has made changes to its admissions process for athletes, including requiring each head coach to certify in writing that a student is being recruited for athletic ability, and mandating that an Office of Athletic Compliance confirm that each admitted student ultimately joins a team.
Other schools, including Harvard, have put in place new, or newly official, policies around fund-raising. Harvard was not involved in the admissions case but has come under scrutiny for other issues involving donations. This year the university codified its policies on gifts; under the new rules, it will not solicit gifts from any donor known to have a family member applying for admission.