Scandal Engulfs USC: Jovan Vavic, Head Men’s & Women’s Polo Coach Arrested Over Fake Admissions Scheme

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In a massive indictment—dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues”—involving more than 60 federal agents and as many as 50 defendants including USC Water Polo Coach Jovan Vavic, the United States Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts charged William “Rick” Singer, a college adviser to the rich and famous, and others with orchestrating an elaborate scheme to bribe university admissions officers.

The indictment alleges a nation-wide conspiracy to cheat on applications by numerous prospective students to elite American universities. Among the allegations: falsifying and in some cases fabricating athletic credentials to ensure lower admissions standards, thereby ensuring acceptance for unqualified candidates to top colleges.

As purported in the charging documents unsealed earlier today, federal agents in multiple states charged select individuals in federal court in Boston. Athletic coaches from Yale, Stanford, USC, Wake Forest and Georgetown, among others, have been implicated, as well as parents and exam administrators.

In a stunning development, Hawai’i News Now reports that Vavic, USC Head Men’s and Women’s Coach, has been arrested by FBI agents in Waikiki on a charge of racketeering conspiracy.

The no. 1 USC women’s water polo team (19-0) was scheduled to play against the University of Hawaii on Saturday.

Vavic, the Trojan head coach for the past 25 years, is one of the most decorated coaches in the history of U.S. collegiate water polo, with eight men’s and six women’s NCAA titles, including a men’s national championship last December over Stanford at Avery Aquatics Center. He was named in the indictment in connection with falsified athletic credentials for two individuals, including the daughter of Agustin Huneeus, Jr., a wine producer from the Napa Valley area of California.

It is alleged that Vavic knowingly supported a fabricated profile of Huneeus child—who had zero experience in the sport—as a top collegiate-level water polo recruit, thereby advancing her application within USC. This arrangement—allegedly executed in coordination with Dr. Donna Heinel, USC Senior Women’s Athletic Director—was in exchange for $250,000 that was funneled through a private foundation. Some of the funds were subsequently used by Vavic to defray personal expenses, including private educational costs for his children.

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USC celebrating in December 2018; no more of this, for now. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

In a statement on the USC website from Dr. Wanda M. Austin, USC’s Interim President, Dr. Austin states that the university was “a victim” in a scheme “perpetrated against the university by a long-time Athletics Department employee, one current coach and three former coaching staff,” possible damning references to Dr. Heinel, who has been with USC since 2011, and Coach Vavic.

Leigh Hopper, a spokesperson for USC, would neither confirm nor deny the allegations against Vavic or Heinel, nor could she comment on the USC Athletic Department’s response to the stunning indictment against two long-serving members of one of the country’s most illustrious athletics programs.

To read the United States Attorney’s Office’s indictment, please click here.

To read the Hawai’i News Now report on Jovan Vavic’s arrest, please click here.

This is a breaking news story and will continue to be updated.

12 comments

  1. David Gong

    Devin Wilson

  2. Joe Rimio

    Tiffany Rimio

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Hi Mika:

      You think that’s a lot – Vavic is OUT. Moon is IN! USC will likely never be the same (though forgive me if I’m engaging in hyperbole…).

      Your correspondent

  3. Karin Knudson O

    Wondering how the NCAA will handle all this with all the schools involved.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Hi Karin:

      Well, we know how USC handled it; not only did they fire Vavic – on their website they’ve already named Casey Moon as interim head coach.

      Kinda unbelievable!

      Your correspondent

  4. Sara Harbison Mackay

    I hope the FBI (& NCAA) go after the individuals. With the University Admissions offices being duped, by a few taking bribes, hope they don’t punish innocent kids in programs that have done nothing wrong. Name & Shame.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Hi Sara:

      I’m not following here; seems like whatever work the FBI / DOJ did they’ve got (apparently) a very clear trail. So, I don’t know that actual athletes will be impacted. BUT, the admissions people will likely be cracking down on future athletic applicants (who knows what kind of impact THAT will have…).

      Your correspondent

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Hi Rob:

      Are you lobbying for a new USC head coach? Seems to me that Coach Clapper will have to get in line behind some other candidates—and Casey Moon gets first crack at proving his bonafides with perhaps the most talented roster in the country…

      Your correspondent