UT Austin Tennis Coach Accepted Nearly $100,000 In College Admission Scheme, Authorities Say

Mar 12, 2019

UT Austin men's tennis coach Michael Center has been arrested and charged with mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud in a wide-ranging, multimillion-dollar college admissions scandal.

Center was paid nearly $100,000 in 2015 to recruit a California student who didn't play tennis, securing his admission to UT, according to a criminal complaint.

The long-time coach will enter a plea of not guilty, his attorney, Dan Cogdell, said. The judge released Center on his own recognizance with a $5,000 cash bond.

Michael Center has coached UT Tennis for 18 seasons.
Credit University of Texas

The arrest "was effectuated by a team of FBI agents hitting the door at his house at 6 a.m. with SWAT gear – which to call it overkill would give it a promotion," Cogdell said.

Federal authorities say William Singer, who runs a California-based admissions consulting firm, is at the center of the $25-million scheme in which wealthy clients paid him to either rig standardized test scores or recruit students with falsified athletic records.

Andrew Lelling, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said at a press conference today that Singer ensured admission for students to Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, the University of Southern California, UCLA, Wake Forest and UT Austin "not on their merits, but through fraud."

According to the complaint, Michael Fox, a Houston man who was also indicted for conspiracy to commit racketeering, emailed Center in November 2014 to shore up the possibility of falsely recruiting the student. Center responded "I read his application and researched his high school ... [l]ooks like he goes to very high end school."

The complaint alleges Center was paid in installments arranged by Fox. Singer, who pleaded guilty today to a handful of felonies and is cooperating with the FBI's investigation, allegedly met with Center in 2015 and gave him $60,000 in cash in a parking lot.

UT Austin said in a statement that authorities notified the school this morning "that we were victims of an organized criminal effort involving admissions."

"We have just become aware of charges against our Men’s Tennis Coach Michael Center and he will be placed on administrative leave until further notice while we gather information," UT said. "We are cooperating fully with the investigation. Integrity in admissions is vital to the academic and ethical standards of our university."

Cogdell said Center is "devastated" by his suspension.

"But he understands that's the process, and we'll get through it," he said.

Center has coached UT Tennis for 18 seasons and has led the Longhorns to as many NCAA Championship appearances, including three in the Final Four. In 2007, he was named College Coach of the Year by the U.S. Professional Tennis Association. 

"It’s a difficult day in our department," Chris Del Conte, UT vice president and athletics director, said in a statement. He said Associate Head Coach Bruce Berque would serve as interim head coach.

Center is due in federal court in Boston on March 25. 

This post has been updated.

Read the complaint: