Professionalism/Fraud in U.S. Collegiate Athetics

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Throughout its recent history, intercollegiate athletics in the United States, as administered by the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), has been laced with both academic and financial fraud. The NCAA defines academic fraud as "knowing involvement in arranging for fraudulent academic credit or false transcripts for a prospective or an enrolled student-athlete,” and financial fraud can be defined as “any crime that involves finances or illicitly gained funds” [1][2]. This page evaluates the professionalism displayed by participating parties, including collegiate athletic coaches and staff, student-athletes and their families, and third-party agents, across a number of cases involving both academic and financial fraud.

Varsity Blues Scandal[edit | edit source]

Varsity Blues was a scandal in which a college admissions consultant, William “Rick” Singer, used bribery and fraudulence to secure his clients’ children’s admission into several highly selective universities in the U.S., such as Georgetown or Yale[3]. Many of his clients were wealthy, including celebrities, business executives, and top lawyers[4]. Although Singer had been in the college counseling business since the mid 90s, he only reportedly began committing fraud in 2011[4]. The scandal became public in March 2019 when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began to probe and shut down the case, in an investigation called Operation Varsity Blues. Up until this point, 33 parents had paid Singer a total of $25 million for their children’s college admission between 2011 and 2018[3][4].

One of Singer’s main tactics was falsifying athletic credentials. Students who were mediocre or inexperienced at the sport were represented by Singer as Division I-level recruits[3]. He bribed college coaches to accept the recruits with large financial sums and fake resumes, “complete with a student’s face photoshopped onto an image of a real athlete"[3]. Singer recruited coaches and parents to his scheme by convincing them that many other coaches and parents were already involved and that he had already succeeded with hundreds of students[4]. If they complied, he would give the coaches or athletic programs “donations” from the money he had acquired from his clients, but he kept much of the profit for himself[3][4][5].

Stanford University[edit | edit source]

Stanford University was one of the schools that was involved in the scandal. Although Singer contacted seven Stanford coaches about fraudulent recruits between 2009 and 2019, only one coach succumbed: John Vandemoer[6]. The former head sailing coach supported three of Singer’s sailing recruits in exchange for $770,000, which was directly donated to the sailing program[5][7]. With his inclusion in the criminal charges made in 2019 against participants in Operation Varsity Blues, Vandemoer was fired from Stanford immediately[6].

University of Southern California (USC)[edit | edit source]

In August of 2016, Singer was working with Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli in getting their two daughters, Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose, into USC through financial bribes. Loughlin and Giannulli agreed to have Singer facilitate their older daughter’s admission to USC as a crew recruit and Giannulli emailed Singer pictures of his older daughter rowing for inclusion of her fake athletic profile[8]. In total, Giannulli contributed over $500,000 in financial "donations" to Singer and his fake charity, Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF)[9]. In 2018, Jade's high school guidance counselor was skeptical on the student's admission to USC as a rowing recruit due to the counselor's knowledge of Jade's inexperience with rowing and her big social media presence. Giannulli then went to the school himself and pressured the counselor to keep quiet and impede any suspicions[9].

Olivia Jade did attend the fall semester of 2018 at USC but in April 2019, 16 parents were announced to be involved in the cheating scandal, including Loughlin and Giannulli. Both plead not guilty[10]. in January of 2020, Massachusetts government filed a 526-page motion in federal court that featured redacted emails, documents and phone call transcripts showing Loughlin and Giannulli's involvement with Singer[10]. In May 2020, Loughlin entered a plea of guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, Giannulli entered a plea of guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and honest services wire and mail fraud[8].

Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli were sentenced to two months and five months in prison, respectively, in connection with securing the fraudulent admission of their two daughters to USC as purported athletic recruits. Along with prison time, Loughlin had two years of supervised release and 100 hours of community service and was ordered to pay a fine of $150,000. Giannulli also had two years of supervised release, 250 hours of community service and a fine of $250,000[8]. Giannulli received a longer sentence due to being a “more active participant in the scheme.” He engaged “more frequently with Singer” and directed the bribe payments to USC and Singer. He also personally confronted a guidance counselor at the girls’ high school after the counselor raised concerns about Olivia Jade’s USC application[9].

Analysis[edit | edit source]

The Varsity Blues Scandal exemplifies poor professionalism in the sense of parents and coaches abusing their power and reputation to provide unethical advantages for their children while they have a limited role/perspective in such situations. The prioritization of financial and personal gain over ethical and responsible conduct drives further consequential scenarios in which parents/coaches will do anything to provide for their children. This begs the discussion of the balance between these scandals' unethical judgment due to their consequences or their intentions. It also brings the role of good intentions being a plausible/implausible excuse to warrant such unethical behavior.

Pay-For-Play Scandal[edit | edit source]

In the fall of 2017, college basketball’s pay-for-play scandal unraveled, resulting in the arrests of Christian Dawkins, a prominent basketball agent, several college basketball assistant coaches, and representatives from Adidas on charges of bribery[11]. Dawkins pioneered the scheme to bribe assistant coaches and player families with the goal of influencing recruited players to attend Adidas-sponsored schools and subsequently partner with Dawkins’ management company once they pursued professional basketball. Enriching NCAA players is strictly forbidden per NCAA rules and regulations[11][12]. Unlike Operation Varsity Blues, where families paid agents to gain admission to schools on the basis of academic merit, the pay-for-play scandal involved agents paying families to incentivize players to recruit to certain schools.

While on trial, Dawkins himself admitted that “anybody who was in charge of the kid’s recruitment process was paid"[11]. Brian Bowen, Sr. testified that Dawkins orchestrated for Adidas to pay him $100,000 in exchange for his son, Brian “Tugs” Bowen’s, commitment to play for the University of Louisville’s men’s basketball team. Bowen was disqualified from college basketball after the arrests in 2017; Bowen currently plays in the NBA’s G League, a noticeable difference in where NBA draft experts predicted he would be playing when he was a top recruit out of high school[12][13]. Similarly, Dawkins and University of Arizona assistant coach Emanual “Book” Richardson were heard discussing head coach Sean Miller’s involvement in paying star player Deandre Ayton $10,000 per month while on the team[11]. Dawkins sought to develop relationships with players and their families so that they would be incentivized to hire Dawkins as their agent once the players went to the NBA, allowing Dawkins to profit off of the players[14].

Analysis[edit | edit source]

The case of Christian Dawkins sheds light on his role in exploiting the NCAA system, breaking the rules of amateur sports, seeking to profit off of the talents of young players. By funneling money to players in exchange for enrollment at Adidas-sponsored schools, Dawkins violated player-agent trust, valuing profits over what is best for the player. Additionally, the role of assistant coaches and head coaches reveals another aspect of the pay-for-play scandal, as they knowingly violated the rules to seek personal benefits, such as performance-based financial bonuses. Altogether, Dawkins and the coaches involved abused their status and perceived expertise as professionals, unethically persuading players and their families to violate NCAA rules in hopes of personal financial gain.

Mississippi State Tutoring Scandal[edit | edit source]

In 2019, an investigation conducted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) at Mississippi State University revealed that an athletics department tutor aided in the academic fraud committed by eleven student-athletes. Articles detailing the situation indicate that the tutor completed assignments, exam and helped with “sometimes nearly the entire course.”[15] Evidence proved to the university and the NCAA that eight football student-athletes and one men’s basketball student-athlete were involved. The tutor was revealed to be a former student at the university, but they refused to participate in investigation, thereby violating the NCAA Ethical Conduct rules.[16] The biggest penalties identified by the NCAA include:

  • A fine of $5000 for Mississippi State University, plus 1% from budgets for the football and men’s basketball teams
  • Disassociation from the school and a 10-year show-cause order for the tutor, indicating that any NCAA-member school that may employ must not allow her to work in their athletics department
  • Three years of probation for Mississippi State University, meaning that the school is ineligible for accreditation for the period set
  • Reductions in multiple athletics scholarships for student-athletes involved


In this circumstance, the tutor committed a number of violations according to the NCAA’s Ethical Conduct rules for athletics department tutors.[17] This case exemplifies the importance of ethical academic careers in student-athletes that the NCAA upholds. Although the tutor violated the ethical standards of both Mississippi State and the NCAA, they underwent a number of ethical agreements in order to be hired as an athletics department tutor. This displays an intentional disregard for the rules, therefore proving the unprofessional conduct exhibited by the tutor.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

By showcasing stories regarding academic and financial fraud, this chapter displays the ethical concerns discussed within professional athletics. As college is the entryway for student-athletes to begin their professional career, collegiate athletics is littered with various cases of fraud. These violations are done in the hopes of propelling the athlete’s career, to the dismay of associations such as the NCAA. For this reason, ethical conduct guidelines are drafted to implement in organizations, such as universities, to offset the occurrence of these crimes and uphold professionalism.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Academy, U. S. Sports (2017-11-23). "Academic Fraud in Revenue and Nonrevenue Sports". The Sport Journal. Retrieved 2023-04-24.
  2. "Financial Fraud & Scams: Protect Yourself | USPIS". United States Postal Inspection Service. Retrieved 2023-04-24.
  3. a b c d e Smith, Tovia (January 4, 2023). "Mastermind of the Varsity Blues college admission scandal is about to learn his fate". npr.
  4. a b c d e Bosman, Julie; Kovaleski, Serge F.; Real, Jose A. Del (2019-03-18). "‘Pied Piper’ of College Admissions Scam Had All the Answers" (in en-US). The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. 
  5. a b Witz, Billy; Chen, David W. (2019-07-17). "Caught Up in the College Admissions Scandal: Stanford’s Boathouse" (in en-US). The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. 
  6. a b magazine, STANFORD (2019-08-07). "Sailing Coach Sentenced; Results of Admissions Probe Announced". Retrieved 2023-04-24.
  7. magazine, STANFORD (2019-04-24). "'This Is Nothing Short of Appalling'". Retrieved 2023-04-24.
  8. a b c "District of Massachusetts | California Couple in College Admissions Case Sentenced to Prison | United States Department of Justice". 2020-08-21. Retrieved 2023-04-30.
  9. a b c "How Lori Loughlin involved daughters in USC fraud: New details released ahead of sentencing". The Mercury News. 2020-08-17. Retrieved 2023-04-30.
  10. a b "Everything We Know About Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman's College Admissions Scandal". E! Online. 2021-04-17. Retrieved 2023-04-30.
  11. a b c d Tynes, Tyler (2019-05-10). ""Money, Bribes, and Basketball": The Trial of Christian Dawkins". The Ringer. Retrieved 2023-04-19.
  12. a b "Three men found guilty of paying athletes in NCAA scandal". 2018-10-24. Retrieved 2023-04-19.
  13. "Brian Bowen II Embraces the Roller Coaster Ride He's Taken to USA Basketball". Retrieved 2023-04-19.
  14. Polacek, Scott. "Christian Dawkins Details Role in Bribery Scandal in HBO Documentary". Bleacher Report. Retrieved 2023-04-19.
  15. "Mississippi State tutor committed academic misconduct to aid 11 student-athletes". Retrieved 2023-05-08.
  16. Caron, Emily (August 23, 2019). "NCAA Puts Mississippi State on Probation After Investigation Into Academic Misconduct". Sports Illustrated. 
  17. National Collegiate Athletic Association. "Academic Do's and Don'ts for Athletics Department Tutors" (PDF).