Quite a racket

FBI serves up criminal charges to UT Austin tennis coach amid college cheating scandal

FBI serves up charges to UT Austin tennis coach amid cheating scandal

Michael Center UT tennis coach
Michael Center has coached at UT since 2000. Photo courtesy of Texas Sports

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has revealed a massive college entrance scandal stretching from coast to coast — and right through the heart of Texas.

On March 12, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts held a joint press conference in Boston announcing the indictments of 50 people across the country, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and the University of Texas at Austin men's tennis coach, Michael Center.

According to a March 6 criminal complaint filed in Massachusetts, Center is accused of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for accepting $100,000 in bribes to help get a student into UT by falsely recruiting him for the tennis team. 

In 2014, the documents allege, Center was approached by someone from the Edge College & Career Network, LLC., a California-based company founded by William Singer. Prosecutors allege that Singer used Edge and his nonprofit, Key Worldwide Foundation, to launder money so wealthy parents could pay SAT and ACT administrators, college administrators, and coaches to get their children into college. 

The March 6 complaint alleges that Center received checks totaling $100,000 between fall 2014 and summer 2015 to recruit a student onto UT's men's tennis team and thus into the prestigious university. The checks were paid to both Center and Texas Athletics at Center's attention, according to documents.

Writes FBI Special Agent Laura Smith in the complaint: "Documents I have reviewed indicate that Applicant 1 [the UT student] was not a competitive tennis player. Applicant l's application for admission to U-Texas listed him as a manager of his high school basketball and football teams. The only tennis referenced in his application was one year of tennis as a high school freshman."

Center reportedly also signed him to a "books scholarship," which promises that the university will pay for the student's books as part of the recruitment process. The UT student reportedly quit the tennis team a few weeks into his first semester and forfeited his books scholarship.

Documents also detail an October 5, 2018, phone call between an unnamed witness and Center in which the coach confirms he gave the books scholarship to the student to "secure his admission to U-Texas."

Overall, parents allegedly paid more than $25 million to Singer over the course of eight years to secure their children placement in elite colleges such as UT, Yale, Stanford, Wake Forest, University of Southern California, and Georgetown University. 

According to Texas Sports, Center has coached the team since July 2000, serving as only the fourth tennis coach in the university's history. He previously coached for Texas Christian University and Stanford University. The Texas Tribune is reporting that Center has been placed on administrative leave by the university.