Report: The Admissions Side Door May Have Been Open For UCLA Applicants With Influential Connections

UCLA gymnastics head coach Valorie Kondos-Field watches as Katelyn Ohashi competes on balance beam during a meet against Stanford at Pauley Pavilion on March 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
UCLA gymnastics head coach Valorie Kondos-Field watches as Katelyn Ohashi competes on balance beam during a meet against Stanford at Pauley Pavilion on March 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: Katharine Lotze (Getty)

The college admissions cheating scandal revealed the details of a formalized process for jamming the failchildren of wealthy and prominent families into otherwise credible and prestigious universities, using an expensive “side door” for parents whose wealth leaves them a rung or two shy of the opportunity to just fund a new wing on campus. In news that will shock roughly no one, it turns out the particular side door exploited by these parents may also have been open at UCLA for the children “of coaches or administrators at the school” or those who “had close ties to them,” according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.


Let’s do a quick and non-comprehensive refresher on how the so-called side door exploited by The Edge College & Career Network worked. In many cases it involved bullcrap entrance exam scores; in all cases it involved bogus application information designed to present the student as an accomplished athlete. A little payola to a coach on the inside could help the application bypass the scrutiny to which normal college applications are subjected, and voila, the mediocre student is admitted to their first-choice college as a recruit of a sport they may never have played. For the parents funding these efforts, the process is alleged to have cost many tens of thousands of dollars.

At UCLA, a Times investigation found that 18 students admitted as athletic recruits in recent years may have been advantaged by that same side door. No money is alleged to have changed hands, but the Times identified a number of instances of students with relatively unimpressive athletic profiles being admitted as recruits for sports that they would ultimately go on to mostly not play for the school. Here’s one such example:

Julia Savage, the daughter of UCLA baseball coach John Savage, was admitted through track and field in 2013. Nathan Howard, the track and field coach at Los Alamitos High, which Julia attended, didn’t recall her participating in the sport. There’s no record of her competing at UCLA. An internal track and field team directory for her freshman year listed her as a manager; athletic department rules prohibit using the athlete admissions process for managers. UCLA wouldn’t say when the rule took effect.

There’s a gymnastics recruit whose uncle was close friends with UCLA’s longtime gymnastics coach, who had no record of competing as a gymnast prior to being admitted to UCLA. There’s the son of an athletic department official who was recruited to the UCLA soccer team despite modest high school success, who reportedly went on to play five minutes ever for the Bruins. There’s an unranked tennis recruit whose father happened to be UCLA’s tennis coach, who played a grand total of seven matches in four years after being admitted. The report has an unexpectedly exhilarating rundown of some of the cases it encountered, and I recommend you read the whole thing.

The gymnastics recruit is particularly illuminating, both for UCLA’s flimsy-sounding defense of her admission to the school and for how quickly that defense seems to blow apart when challenged. UCLA spokesman Tod Tamberg insisted to the Times that the student—who, again, had no record of competing as a gymnast and whose uncle happened to be “one of [the] dearest friends” of UCLA’s gymnastics coach—was a valid recruit:

Tamberg said UCLA’s “gymnastics coaches believed that a combination of the student’s athleticism and UCLA-level coaching would make her a valuable asset to the team” in the vault. Caire’s parents, he said, hadn’t donated to the school or pledged donations when she was recruited.

He said the school used its “multi-step evaluation process” to vet Caire, including unspecified staffers “viewing video of the student performing gymnastic skills” to verify her athletic ability.

Here’s the punchline to that improbable-as-hell-sounding setup: When Times reporters asked to view the video that was used as the basis for the admission of a gymnast who’d never done competitive gymnastics to one of the top programs in the country, they were reportedly told that UCLA “couldn’t locate it.” You hate it when that happens.

[Los Angeles Times]

Staff Writer, Deadspin