AMHERST, MA – For Amherst Athletics, equestrian and crew are relatively small-time affairs; they don’t fill stadiums, drive the college’s notoriety, or win championships. That is why they are at the center of what was described as the broadest college admissions fraud the U.S. Justice Department has uncovered. In its investigation, codenamed “Junior Varsity Blues,” the government focused on nine different colleges and universities who held a similar athletic reputation as Amherst, including Salve Regina University, Cal State Dominguez Hills, and ITT Technical Institute. Unlike in football and basketball, there is little widespread knowledge of or general interest in who might be good at what are seen as minor sports, so admissions officials usually have to take coaches at their word when they tell them an applicant is worthy.
One of the students named in the FBI indictment was a current Amherst sophomore, who, with no experience rowing, won a spot on Amherst’s prestigious club rowing team after a photograph of another person in a midsize rowboat was submitted as evidence of her prowess. The indictment revealed that the coach was provided with an athletic profile, complete with a falsified list of regattas and a picture of the athlete sitting on a rowing ergometer. The coach then replied that he wanted a photo of the athlete in a “boat,” and the athlete’s admissions counselor was then directed to find examples online where it was “tough to see the face.” At the center of Amherst’s rowing admissions scandal is a series of seven $50,000 payments from the athlete’s parents, payable to Amherst Rowing’s club endowment. In emails revealed through the investigation, the coach repeatedly told the athlete’s parents that he would need substantial financial compensation in exchange for the favor which he would use to “ensure financial solvency in the wake of AAS budgetary pressures and repair the club team’s reputation on campus.”
However, Amherst’s rowing team was not the only lower profile team mentioned in the FBI investigation. Amherst’s club equestrian team was similarly implicated as the report detailed that every single team member had been the recipient of preferential admissions treatment on account of monetary bribery. The authorities say that each of the equestrian team’s six members contracted the services of a college preparatory business called (In)Equality College & Career Network to help the students gain admission to Amherst. In one instance, a photoshopped photo of a student on a horse was sufficient to convince the coach of an athlete’s ability while in another case a parent tried to masque the payment’s true intentions by saying that its purpose was “to ensure my child will be able to take her emotional support Australian Sock Horse off with her to college.”
Several students on campus have remarked that these external payments to club sports are ironic considering the size of their school-funded budgets, while another took a different angle and was quoted as saying: “What does it say that our government finished up this FBI investigation before the one into Trump?”
Late Tuesday evening Amherst President Biddy Martin released a statement on the conspiracy:
“By now you may have seen news that the U.S. Justice Department has indicted several dozen people around the country, including some at our college, as part of an alleged bribery scheme to try to win the admission of prospective students to a number of U.S. colleges and universities.
This behavior runs completely counter to Amherst’s core values. However, the parents named in the scandal have made significant contributions to the college’s Science Center fundraising effort and “Promise Campaign” and thus, for now, the college will refrain from taking any disciplinary action.
But to the equestrian and crew teams: you’re treading on thin fucking ice.”