Stanford's sailing program embroiled in college admissions scandal
REDWOOD CITY — A Stanford sailor arrived at the university’s gleaming boathouse to clean out her locker at the end of the school year. The doors would not open.
“Did they change the locks again?” she said with an air of exasperation.
It was a reasonable question. In March, when sailing coach John Vandemoer was fired after being snared in a nationwide admissions scandal, the locks were changed at the Arrillaga Family Rowing and Sailing Center. In April, they were changed again, after men’s rowing coach Craig Amerkhanian was mysteriously fired — late in the season, weeks before his planned retirement.
Stanford’s boating troubles stem from the work of William Singer, the private college consultant who collected millions of dollars in payments from wealthy parents and paid college coaches and athletic administrators to designate non-athletes as recruits for admissions purposes at elite universities. In some cases, the college coaches pocketed the money.
In others, Singer, who goes by Rick, made donations to the athletic programs.
Stanford is investigating the scope of the wrongdoing. It has hired the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett to review how its athletes are recruited and how athletics-related gifts are accepted.
The university has reviewed email accounts, phone records and computers of coaches and athletic department staff. It has acknowledged that Singer contacted other coaches at Stanford — Amerkhanian among them. At least one parent indicted in the scandal, a Canadian businessman, also contacted Amerkhanian to discuss a recruiting spot for his son.
Stanford maintains it has not unearthed any other cases of admissions fraud, however.
“Stanford is strengthening its internal controls and processes in an effort to prevent something like this from happening again,” E.J. Miranda, a university spokesman, said in a statement.
That Stanford is in this position is startling. It has a $26.5 billion endowment and prides itself on achieving athletic excellence without sacrificing integrity. But the turmoil in these two modestly financed athletic programs, along with another pair of dismissals, has resulted in what has long been seen as the ultimate sin at Stanford — sullying the university’s reputation.
“You didn’t do anything that could tarnish Stanford’s name,” Jay Kehoe, a former head sailing coach, said. “That was definitely the culture.”
When Vandemoer, wearing a navy suit and holding his wife’s hand, walked into a Boston courthouse for a sentencing hearing last month, the lawyers on both sides sparred over the extent of the damage done to Stanford’s reputation.
Since the scheme was revealed in March, federal prosecutors have brought criminal charges against more than 50 people, including coaches, Hollywood actresses and prominent figures from the worlds of law and finance.
Vandemoer, who pleaded to conspiracy to commit racketeering, was the first to be sentenced: six months of home confinement for receiving more than $600,000 from Singer in exchange for designating applicants as sailing recruits. The best-known case involved a student from China whose parents paid Singer $6.5 million.
Vandemoer, who put the money from Singer into a fund that supports Stanford’s sailing program, lost his job and his Stanford housing. He now lives at the vacation home of a Stanford benefactor and coaches privately at a club run by his wife, just a few hundred yards from the Stanford boathouse.