The University of Virginia disclosed Friday that some student-athletes were apparently recruited several years ago because of the possibility that their admission would result in financial donations to the school.
The disclosure, in a statement from UVA, suggested that fundraising goals might have compromised the sensitive process of athletic recruiting and admissions at the prestigious public university.
The university also said that in a few cases, recruited athletes who enrolled did not participate on their designated teams, for reasons that were unclear.
UVA said it uncovered the problems through an internal review of its athletic recruiting, prompted by the national admissions-bribery scandal that emerged this year at several other prominent universities.
UVA declined to make senior officials available for interviews about the revelations. It cited student privacy in refusing to discuss specific cases.
“We have, however, taken remedial action where appropriate,” UVA President James Ryan said in the statement. “We are also putting into place new procedures designed to strengthen our process for considering the admission of student-athletes and to adhere to best practices.” Ryan took office a year ago.
UVA’s disclosure comes nearly five months after federal authorities revealed an audacious admissions scam involving athletics programs at other prominent universities. In that scandal, California college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer acknowledged that he orchestrated the submission of fake athletic credentials to universities to help the children of wealthy parents pose as recruited athletes. Singer has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other crimes.
The federal investigation, known as Operation Varsity Blues, found evidence that applicants manufactured or overstated accomplishments in soccer, tennis, water polo, pole vaulting and other sports in bids to get into prominent universities. Prosecutors charge that former coaches at the University of Southern California and Georgetown, Stanford and Yale universities accepted bribes as part of the scheme. Dozens of parents have also been charged.
UVA was not implicated in the Varsity Blues scandal. But leaders of the 24,600-student university in Charlottesville asked university counsel Timothy Heaphy to review their athlete recruiting and admission process to determine whether the school faces similar issues.
Heaphy, a former U.S. attorney, looked at records of hundreds of student-athletes recruited during the past four years, conducted interviews and checked with other schools on how they recruit, according to the UVA statement.
The university said the review found relatively few problems. It discovered no evidence of fraudulent ACT or SAT scores — another issue in the Varsity Blues scandal — or of misrepresentation of athletic credentials.
UVA has about 750 athletes who participate in 27 intercollegiate sports programs. It is also one of the nation’s most selective public universities. About 40,900 applicants sought a spot in the class entering this fall. Of those, about 24% were offered admission.
“The overall results of this review were positive and reassuring,” Director of Athletics Carla Williams said in the statement. “I am grateful for the professionalism and integrity of our coaches and staff.”
However, the university added a caveat:
“The review did identify a small number of cases from several years ago where the prospect of a gift appears to have motivated the recruitment of student-athletes. The review also found a few instances where recruited student-athletes did not ultimately participate on the team for which they were recruited, for reasons the university was unable to confirm. To protect the privacy of those students, the university will not discuss specific cases.”
The disclosure raised several questions that UVA declined to answer.
Among them: What sports were affected? Are any of the recruits who didn’t participate on teams still students? Did any money actually get sent to the university in exchange for an effort to recruit athletes?
When asked those questions, UVA spokesman Wes Hester referred back to the statement. Hester clarified one point, saying the statement about prospective gifts referred to donations to the university — not to the recruited athletes themselves.
UVA said that going forward, it will refrain from soliciting or accepting gifts from prospective student-athletes and their families during the recruiting and application process. The university said it will also:
- independently verify information from coaches about recruited athletes;
- audit team rosters to ensure recruits participate in athletic programs; and
- require student-athletes to pledge at the time of admission to participate in their designated sports programs. Admission offers could be revoked if student-athletes don’t participate and UVA finds that their pledges were insincere.
Williams was named athletic director in 2017, succeeding Craig Littlepage, who held the post for 16 years. Reached by telephone, Littlepage declined to comment. UVA said in its statement that ultimate authority for admission of athletes lies not with athletic officials but with the dean of undergraduate admission.