University of Texas fires men’s tennis coach Michael Center in wake of national college admissions scheme

AddThis

Photo Credit: Joshua Guenther | Daily Texan Staff

Updated, Wednesday, March 13 at 5:10 p.m.:

Michael Center has been dismissed from his role as men’s tennis coach, effective immediately, as of March 13. University of Texas President Greg Fenves made the announcement in a statement on Wednesday.

“As many of you know, criminal charges were filed yesterday against a number of staff members and coaches at eight universities for alleged briberies and admissions fraud. One University of Texas employee - Men’s Tennis Coach Michael Center - was charged as part of an extensive federal investigation,” Fenves said. “We take the criminal allegations against Michael Center very seriously and, as of today, he has been terminated as a UT employee.”

According to a statement from Chris Del Conte, vice president and athletics director, and the University, Associate Head Coach Bruce Berque will continue as the interim head coach.
“After working with campus leaders to review the recent situation with Michael Center, we have decided to relieve him of his duties as our Men’s Tennis coach,” Del Conte said. “It’s a very difficult decision, and we are grateful for the years of service that he has provided, but winning with integrity will always be paramount at The University of Texas, and it was a decision that had to be made.”

Del Conte applauded his team for how they’ve handled the situation.

“I’ve met with our team and assured them that we will do everything in our power to support them,” Del Conte added. “I also plan to reach out to all of our commitments, signees and their families immediately. I’m grateful for Coach Berque’s leadership during this challenging time.”

Original story:

Texas men’s tennis head coach Michael Center was arrested in his home early Tuesday morning on charges in conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud in documents unsealed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts.

Center entered a preliminary hearing at the U.S. Courthouse in Austin later that afternoon where Houston-based attorney, Dan Cogdell, represented the 54-year-old Center.

Dressed in a burnt orange t-shirt and black Texas Longhorns sweatpants, Center stood in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin, where the charges were handed down. The judge ordered Center to pay $5,000, or 10 percent, of the $50,000 bond within 72 hours.

Center was placed on administrative leave from the University of Texas at Austin as soon as University officials became aware of the complaint. Those within the University investigating the incident believe it is isolated and does not involve any other employees.

“It’s a difficult day in our department, as we received reports that a member of our staff is accused of wrongdoing,” Chris Del Conte, athletics director and vice president, said in a statement. “We have placed Coach Center on leave until further notice while we cooperate with the federal law enforcement authorities in reviewing this situation. In the meantime, with our men’s tennis team in the middle of its competitive season, associate head coach Bruce Berque, will serve as our interim head coach going forward as we continue to gather information.”

Unaware of the University’s action, Center told the judge that the Longhorn tennis team had a match against Rice on Tuesday evening. It wasn’t until the hearing ended that Center was informed he was placed on leave.

According to the complaint, Center is accused of accepting approximately $100,000 from “CW-1,” or Cooperating Witness 1. The $100,000 was “in exchange for which Center would designate a student as a recruit to the (UT) tennis team, thereby facilitating his admission to (UT).”

 

“At this point, I don’t have anything to say,” Center said, walking down the front steps of the courthouse. “We’ll wait and see what happens. Maybe you guys can go cover the team — they’re a lot more fun to watch than I am.”

The complaint also includes transcripts of a phone call made between the witness and Center on or about Oct. 5, 2018, which the witness made at the direction of law enforcement agents. The two discussed the bribe that paid for the student’s recruitment (referred to as Applicant 1). 

Center confirmed on the phone call that he signed the applicant, a resident of Los Altos Hills, California, to a “books scholarship” to secure his admission to the University.

During the conversation, Center confirmed that he was paid more than $90,000, saying, “I think the total amount was … in the nineties area.” Center also stated in the conversation that “some of the money” was put toward the tennis facilities.

The student “voluntarily withdrew from the tennis team and renounced his ‘books’ scholarship” on or about Sept. 4, 2015, just after enrolling at UT. As a result, the applicant no longer received money from the University to purchase school books and was no longer classified as a student-athlete. 

Documents reviewed by the complaint’s FBI agent show that the student’s University application listed him as a manager of his high school football and basketball teams. The only tennis participation mentioned in his application was from his freshman year.

Cogdell said the defense will plead not guilty and that Center was “devastated” by the charges.

“It’s a very serious allegation, but he is an outstanding human being,” Cogdell said. “He’s an outstanding human being. He’s an outstanding coach. He’s a credit to the University of Texas. He believes, as do I, in trying this in a court of law, not a court of public opinion. He’ll get through this, and I believe in the system that we’ll get the right results.”

The criminal complaint document is part of a nationwide college admissions bribery case that involves several other Division 1 college coaches. According to federal prosecutors, the plot involved students who attended or were seeking to attend Georgetown University, Stanford University, UCLA, the University of San Diego, USC, the University of Texas, Wake Forest and Yale.

Center’s trial begins March 25 in Boston.

This story has been updated with comment from the men's tennis head coach and with more information.