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  • College is rife with scandals but the latest issue for the NCAA has little to do with sports. It turns out competitive parenting can motivate cheating just like basketball or football.
By Michael Rosenberg
March 12, 2019

The tennis program at Georgetown apparently cheats, which is certainly no surprise to this reporter. I’ve long thought of the Hoyas as the Yale soccer of college tennis, and we all know about Yale soccer, don’t we? Well, we do now.

Of all the college athletics scandals over the years—and by my count, we’re up to 173 trillion—this latest one may be the most telling. It involves a bunch of teams you never thought about, unless your kid was on the team, in which case: we’re going to need some ID and a game tape, please.

There are two scandals rolled together here. One scandal involves parents bribing people to take admissions tests for their kids. The other involves people bribing college administrators. As a condition of many of those bribes, the administrators pretended kids were being recruited as athletes, to help them gain admission to schools.

Right now, around the country, there are dozens of readers who are absolutely appalled that they didn’t think of this. It’s brilliant! Who pays attention to the crew team roster besides the admissions department, anyway?

Our nation’s favorite competitive sport is not football, basketball or baseball. It is parenting.

Some of the competition is legal. Many of the moves are totally understandable. Almost everybody who has kids and a little money has tried to give their children an edge. But there are edges like putting them in a travel sports program or getting a private tutor, and then there is the case of actress Felicity Huffman, who allegedly paid for somebody to fix her daughter’s SAT score. Fellow actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are accused of paying $500,000 to USC in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the college's crew team—even though they did not participate in crew.

If you’re surprised, you haven’t seen a mom use intimidation to get her daughter more playing time on a sixth-grade team, or a dad go from helping his son do his homework to doing it for him. The slope is as slippery as you want it to be. And if your kid is nearing the end of high school and you’re sure she’s a good kid, a better student than the scores indicate, and she would really thrive in the right environment if somebody just gives her a chance … well, one man’s racketeering indictment is another man’s guide to raising a happy child.

These are, of course, merely allegations at this point. But if they’re all true, they aren’t the result of some bizarre, once-in-a-lifetime Hollywood scheme. They are the product of two undeniable trends in modern American life. One is competitive parenting. The other is collegiate institutions acting like corporations.

The coaches are accused of taking graft to get underserving students in, and legal forms of this practice are common all over the country. Put your name on a building, endow a chair, and watch what happens.

You can read the indictment and wonder how these coaches thought they could get away with this. Presumably, when an admissions department admits an unqualified student because a coach said the student was a recruit, that admissions department would then, you know, check to see if the unqualified student actually played the sport. Evidently these coaches assumed the admissions department was not really paying attention. Perhaps they figured that the admissions department was so accustomed to doing favors for the wealthy, for bending its process for the athletic department, and for adjusting its standards when convenient, that nobody would notice.

These were not all naïve young coaches. Jovan Vavic, the USC water polo coach named in the indictment, has won 14 national championships. Fourteen! Yet (if you believe the indictment) Vavic apparently believed he could sneak a couple of fake recruits past the admissions committee. Vavic allegedly did this in exchange for private-school tuition for his own children.

This is not violent crime, but there are victims here. There are the students who deserved to get in but didn’t, of course. But the kids who ostensibly benefited are victims, too. They were handed something they didn’t earn, and they were taught that it’s better to buy your way to success than to earn it. They would probably all be better off in the long run if they received a simple old rejection letter. A lot of genuine success stories have started there.

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