Former University of Texas tennis coach and Manhattan, Kansas, native Michael Center was sentenced to six months in prison in Boston federal court Monday afternoon.
The sentencing comes after Center, 55, entered a guilty plea in April for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud as part of a college admissions scandal that generated national headlines and included celebrities Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.
The scandal involved cheating on college entrance exams including the SAT and ACT. It also involved securing admissions for prospective students by bribing coaches to admit them into athletic programs, regardless of athletic ability.
Investigators found that Center conspired with mastermind William “Rick” Singer in 2015 to get a prospective student admitted to the university under false pretenses. Center accepted a $100,000 bribe, $40,000 of which was donated to UT’s athletics program, in exchange for designating the student a tennis recruit.
Center pleaded guilty last April to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud and was released on a $5,000 bond.
Although the maximum sentence for the charges was 20 years, U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns accepted prosecutors’ recommendation of six months in exchange for Center’s “substantial assistance,” according to the plea deal. Other penalties handed down include a $20,000 fine, forfeiture of the $60,000 Center pocketed and 12 months of supervised release following the prison time, according to court filings.
The sentence was even lower than the original 15 to 22 months of prison time and $250,000 fine laid out in the plea deal. Prosecutors said Center’s remorse and cooperation impacted their recommendation, USA Today reported.
Center, who was the tennis coach for 18 seasons, was fired by UT because of the NCAA violations. Center was a multi-sport standout at Manhattan High in the early 1980s.
Before the sentencing, Center choked up as he apologized to the judge for his involvement in the scheme, according to USA Today.
“I just want to say how sorry I am,” Center said. “I’m so sorry to my family, my wife, my two boys, my friends and all my former players that I coached over the last 30 years. I’ve never done anything like this before. I would never do anything like this again.”
Center was free to leave the courthouse after the hearing and was ordered to report to the Bureau of Prison on April 6 to begin serving his sentence, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The facility where he’ll be incarcerated will be designated at that time.
While 14 parents have been sentenced in the blockbuster “Varsity Blues” scandal revealed last year, Center’s sentence marked just the second for a college coach and the first to involve prison time.
Fifty-three people were charged in the sting.
Center is the first coach who has gotten prison time in the admissions scandal. Former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer avoided prison last summer when he was sentenced to two years of supervised release for falsely designating two students as sailing recruits. Unlike Center, Vandemoer directed bribes, for $110,000 and $160,000, to the sailing program and did not take any money for himself. The two students did not complete applications to the school.
Two women’s soccer coaches from USC have pleaded guilty, as has a women’s soccer coach from Yale.
Following Center’s arrest, university officials performed a review of its athletic department admissions and determined no other athletes were admitted improperly in the 18 years since Center arrived on campus.