USC information on college admissions issue

Updated: April 15, 2022

The Boston U.S. Attorney’s Office in March 2019 announced indictments related to the national admissions scandal known as “Operation Varsity Blues.” USC was shocked and deeply disappointed to learn that some USC students had been falsely presented to USC Admissions as athletic recruits with the assistance of an outside college counselor named Rick Singer. It has been the university’s priority to hold those involved in the Varsity Blues scandal accountable and to take steps to safeguard the integrity of our admissions process.

The university has completed an individual review of 33 students who were alleged to have been involved in admissions deceit. These reviews were conducted in a way that was both thorough and fair to the students involved. Twelve students were not found to have violated university policy and received no discipline, and 21 students were found to have violated university policy and received discipline that ranged from a deferred suspension to expulsion, depending on the specific circumstances of their violation.

The following FAQ outlines steps the university has taken to reform its athletics admissions process.


What was USC’s involvement with the ongoing prosecution of Varsity Blues defendants?

USC continues to cooperate with the Boston U.S. Attorney’s Office in its prosecution of defendants in Operation Varsity Blues, including by providing emails and other relevant documents to the government and to the defendants, when appropriate.

Has USC identified anyone other than those connected to Varsity Blues who violated the athletics admissions process? If so, what were the circumstances? 

Yes. Going at least as far back as 2012, we identified that an average of 12 students per year, out of an average of 240 students per year who are admitted as student-athletes, ultimately were not on a team roster.

These students were not on rosters for different reasons. Some were clients of Rick Singer. Others were falsely presented to the Office of Admission as athletic recruits due to the past giving and/or potential future generosity of their families, or personal connections with employees in our Athletics Department. And some applicants were legitimately admitted as student-athletes but were not on a team roster for legitimate reasons.

Other than with respect to the Singer clients, we are unaware of evidence establishing that the students who did not appear on a roster were admitted through an explicit quid pro quo— and in fact, many of those applicants’ families have never donated to USC at any time. For those applicants who were not legitimately admitted as student-athletes, one or a small number of Athletics Department employees violated USC policy and subverted the athletics admissions process. Importantly, their improper behavior was not known to USC’s Office of Admission, and in fact, was intentionally concealed from the Office of Admission. USC would not have admitted these applicants had it known they were being falsely presented as recruited student-athletes.

What are the names of the applicants who were presented as athletic recruits under false or misleading circumstances? Can you provide more detail on the specifics of each case?

Privacy laws prevent USC from releasing the names of students or the details of individual cases.

Have those responsible been held accountable?

The small number of responsible individuals, all of whom were in USC’s Athletics Department, have been disciplined and/or are no longer employed by the university. Under the leadership of our new Athletics Director Mike Bohn, behavior that is not consistent with our core values and ethics will simply not be tolerated.

Was the Office of Admission aware of the violations?

No. Donna Heinel intentionally concealed from the Office of Admission any information that suggested a purported student-athlete was not being recruited for athletic purposes. USC would not have admitted these applicants had it known they were being falsely presented as recruited student-athletes.

What steps has the university taken to reform its athletics admissions process? 

We have undertaken a number of significant steps to prevent people from abusing our athletics admission process. We fully recognize the work and discipline that is required of student-athletes to play at the college level. With collaboration from all corners of the university, we have implemented a number of reforms designed to safeguard the integrity of student-athlete admissions and support the outstanding legitimate student-athletes applying to USC. These reforms include:

  • Every student-athlete candidate’s file is reviewed on three levels — by the head coach, the senior sports administrator for the particular sport the student plays and the Office of Athletic Compliance — before being delivered to the Office of Admission for review.
  • Each USC head coach must certify in writing that the student is being recruited on the basis of their athletic ability.
  • All undergraduate applicants are required to sign an attestation (in addition to the attestation required by the Common App) affirming they submitted their own application, the information is true and accurate, and should any misrepresentation be found, regardless of source, it is grounds for immediate revocation of admission.
  • All undergraduate applicants are required to acknowledge that their application and supporting materials are subject to audit.
  • The Office of Athletic Compliance maintains custody of the completed admissions file and has responsibility for confirming each admitted student is on an athletic roster upon matriculation.
  • The Athletics Department, Office of Athletic Compliance and the Office of Admission now share software to track all student-athlete applications throughout the decision-making process.
  • All rosters are audited at the beginning of each academic year. Additional random audits are performed during the academic year, and a full audit is conducted near the end of the academic year.

Will USC implement additional reforms if needed?

USC believes the reforms put in place in 2019 will prevent the kind of abuses that took place in Varsity Blues. That said, we are always looking to improve our processes to make them even better. We have great confidence in the leadership of the Athletic Department, Office of Athletic Compliance and Office of Admission to carry these efforts forward and ensure that we are always living up to our unifying values.