Sponsorship of US sports coaches tied to student admissions

Practice seen as officially accepted counterpart to bribes currently under investigation

May 13, 2019
American football

The bribery of US university sports coaches by parents seeking to boost student applications has an officially sanctioned counterpart in which institutions accept direct financial sponsorships of their coaches, The Boston Globe reported.

Evidence of such systems can be found in many elite US colleges including most of the Ivy League, where parents typically pay between $1 million (£770,000) and $2.5 million to get credit for an endowed coaching position, the Globe said.

At nearly all eight Ivy League colleges, the newspaper reported, there are cases where a student was accepted into the institution around the time that the student’s family funded such a coaching endowment.

Some of the most aggressive practitioners of the practice of endowed coaching positions, the Globe found, are Yale, Cornell, Harvard and Stanford universities.

The report comes two months after US government investigators charged dozens of parents, coaches, testing officials and private admissions counsellors in a scheme where the parents paid millions of dollars in bribes to win student admissions to elite college through falsified sports and academic credentials.

Sports coaches at Yale and Stanford were among the alleged participants named in March. The universities uniformly denied official knowledge of the bribery and took steps to fire any such coaches still working for them.

Yet at Yale, which offers endowment options for 24 of its 33 sports teams, the Globe identified “numerous” examples of applicants gaining admission after their families funded officially sanctioned sports team endowments.

Openly advertised on Yale’s athletic department website, the university sets specific financial criteria for participating, followed by an ambiguously phrased suggestion of the benefits: “The possibilities are endless.”

A Yale spokesman told the Globe that the university does not accept unqualified students. But he acknowledged that Yale allows preferences to applicants “for whom there is an institutional priority”, and he declined to rule out financial gifts as a factor.

The spokesman said that Yale was now “taking extra steps” to ensure compliance with its conflicts of interest policy.

The practice, however, has accelerated over the past decade in the Ivy League, the Globe said. Cornell has 30 endowed coaching positions, the most in the US, the newspaper found. Sports at Yale in which the Globe found links between a coach endowment and a student admission included lacrosse, golf and football.

Those charged in this year’s college admissions scandal include Rudolph Meredith, a former women’s football coach at Yale, who has already pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges. He was accused of helping the admission of student by designating her for his team, despite her lack of ability in football, after her family paid $1.2 million in bribe money.

The new revelations from the Globe compound concern that, while the direct bribery of sports coaches by outside consultants is illegal and subject to criminal prosecution, openly advertised institutional arrangements that allow the same basic goal appear legal and routine.

Federal prosecutors fed that suspicion while first outlining the scandal in March. Referencing the bribery allegations that he was in the process of outlining, the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, told reporters: “We’re not talking about donating a building so that a school’s more likely to take your son or daughter.”

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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