USC athletics coaches, administrator indicted in college admissions scam

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

A USC athletics administrator, a national-title winning head coach and two former coaches were indicted in a college admissions scam on Tuesday.

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Yet another scandal has rocked USC athletics, and college admissions as a whole.

On Tuesday, three USC coaches, former and current, and a current USC athletics administrator were indicted as part of a nationwide college admissions bribery scam.

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National title-winning water polo coach Jovan Vavic, former USC women’s soccer head coach Ali Khosroshahin, former USC women’s soccer assistant coach Laura Janke and current USC senior women’s athletic director Donna Heinel were charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering. Coaches linked to the likes of Stanford, UCLA and many other universities were also indicted.

The indictment against those four and several others reveal a bribery scam run by William Singer, the founder of a college admissions counseling business. Singer paid college athletics coaches and administrators to classify normal students under athletics designations in order to raise their chance of being admitted into the university.

Specific to USC, the indictment alleges alarming instances of corruption inside the athletic department:

  • A private soccer club controlled by Janke and Khosroshahin allegedly received $350,000 for designating four students as recruits for the USC women’s soccer team even though none played competitive soccer. (Khosroshahin and his staff were terminated by USC in 2013, however, their involvement in facilitating false recruits to the university did not end then, according to the indictment.)
  • A bank account that funded Vavic’s USC water polo team allegedly received $250,000 after Vavic designated two students as water polo recruits.
  • Singer allegedly made private school tuition payments for Vavic’s own children in exchange for a commitment to designate students as recruits in the future.
  • Between 2014 and 2018, Heinel allegedly accepted a total of $1.3 million into USC bank accounts she controlled, typically an account for the USC Women’s Athletic Board.
  • Heinel was allegedly paid between $50,000 and $100,000 per student designated as an athletics recruit. She did this for more than two dozen students.

The indictment lays out a specific incident which demonstrates the process of falsifying records and the interconnected nature of USC’s indictees:

"“On or about September 20, 2016, Singer sent an email to Janke attaching the transcript and test scores of USC Applicant 1. Singer wrote: “to be a coxswain at USC through Heinel. A profile needs to be completed. Picture coming.” “In a subsequent email exchange, Singer provided Janke with a falsified list of regattas to list on USC Applicant 1’s profile.” “On or about October 5, 2016, Singer sent USC Applicant 1’s profile, transcripts and scores to Heinel. The profile included a picture of USC Applicant 1 ona  rowing ergometer.” “On or about October 7, 2016, Singer reported back to Janke that Heinel wanted a photo of USC Applicant 1 in a ‘boat’ and asked Janke to find examples online where it is “tough to see the face’.”"

A picture—not of the student—was provided and the applicant was granted conditional acceptance to USC.

Singer allegedly instructed the father of the student in question to mail a $50,000 check “payable to USC Athletics” to Heinel at her USC office.

Heinel is the only school administrator indicted in the nationwide probe, making USC’s involvement in this case particularly egregious.

What does this mean for athletic director Lynn Swann and the USC athletics department? The NCAA may ultimately be tempted to weigh in on the allegations at an institution level, though just as is the case with the massive college basketball FBI probe which involved a Trojan assistant basketball coach, the sheer number of universities involved may protect USC from harsh punishment.

Internally, however, this latest embarrassment further highlights the need for an overhaul of how USC does business on the athletics side of things.

For his part, Swann’s job security may benefit from the timing of many of these allegations. The scheme started well before he was hired as USC’s athletics director.

Even that may not be enough to save him if USC’s new president opts to clean house and start fresh. That is, when a new university president is finally hired.

UPDATE — USC released a statement on the indictments via Twitter:

The reverberations of this will no doubt continue.