In a nutshell, I’m over elitist culture. From Washington D.C. to Stanford University I am tired of people and institutions that play by different rules than everyone else and create an ever widening gap between perception and reality. This was my thought as I watched the new Netflix documentary, Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal. My optimism was more than dampened with the realization that Stanford does not stand behind the character building grind required to achieve the high academic standard and level of play that are required to wear a Cardinal jersey. The story of fallen college admissions consultant Rick Singer and his side door approach to college entrance that got the kids of affluent families into the universities of their choice, upon the six and seven figure donations by their parents, testing scandals, and blatant lies that the students were athletes in sports that they had never played, hit a major nerve in me…like a sciatic nerve, so big it knocks you off your feet.
When the original story broke, I followed it because I lived in the backyard of schools and people who were involved in this scandal, and because two of my kids were approaching college. But as with most of the news these days, I tried not to sink too deep into the story because it was incomprehensible. At the time, I had two kids headed toward college. After making a transition from indoor volleyball to the beach, Lauren knew she was going to TCU to play. Luke had his sights set on Stanford, a place he had been attending football games in ‘fear the tree’ t shirts with his siblings since he was eight years old. I watched as he sacrificed sleep, increased his workload, and focused on his grades, while he waited and hoped for a chance to play volleyball for the Cardinal. Finding out he had a shot was one of the greatest days of his life, although he still had to wait for admissions to let him know he was in as a student…Stanford athletes are expected to maintain the schools standards for excellence in academics too, and he was told if they don’t hit the mark, they can’t wear the jersey, whether the coach wants them or not. I remember thinking at the time that for this age, these are the real pressures, what I don’t remember thinking was that as his parent, there was anything I could do about it besides support his efforts, be there to talk, and encourage him if he needed it.
The release of this documentary shed light on Stanford at a time when they they are already suffering in my book after turning their back on 240 athletes from 11 sports that they recruited. These athletes learned through their athletic experience how to show up, to crush it, to have a bad day or game, and learn to fight back, and yet they face a hypocritical university that will not show up in the same way for them.
Although it’s hard to stop talking about all the things we learned in 2020 from everything that we lost, as I watch this young Stanford Men’s Volleyball Team battle for what the university wants to be their last season (one that looks nothing like a real college volleyball season, with it’s incomplete schedule, training, and apathetic coaching) the irony of Stanford’s proclaimed value system and the gap between perception and reality is astounding. A school that is known for the amazing things they do to serve underprivileged and deserving students has a dark side. Stanford, with a near $30B endowment, that made $1.6B in 2019-20 alone, has decided that it can’t afford 11 sports?! On July 8, 2020 in the midst of everything else that these athletes had lost during the pandemic, they were told by the school that recruited them (that they each had to work incredibly hard to get into on their own and gave up other opportunities to be able to wear the Cardinal jersey) wouldn’t have a home for the sport that they have spent the majority of their lives playing. Reportedly, they didn’t want to continue programs that couldn’t compete for National Championships (way to answer back Shane Griffiths). No warning to the alumni or staff that their program was in danger…no amount of money raised would save them, no side door opportunities for these student-athletes, not that they would have needed them anyway.
Growth requires challenge and pain produces progress, so in the long run, Stanford can’t take anything from these athletes, they will be tough as nails and know how to battle no matter what path they choose to walk. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a right thing to do…and Stanford hasn’t done it. These athletes deserve the support not only of their families and the outstanding alumni of these programs, but for the university that brought them on campus for an opportunity that was pulled out from under them to continue to provide them with a chance to lead and grow in the sport that they committed to play. Watching from the volleyball LiveStream on the screen, I see the athletes battling with all the heart that they have, even with a lackluster coaching effort that these players do not deserve. When the character of the athletes far surpasses that of the university that they were recruited to play for, something is very wrong. Stanford has proven that the entitled can buy their way in, and the endowment will help educate those who can’t afford to pay but are deserving, but they deserted the hard working student/athletes that committed to them, and it’s inexcusable. In the end, it’s not my ultimate decision if my son will stay at Stanford, I trust his decision making process 100%, but one thing is for sure, Stanford doesn’t deserve these athletes, or our support. When the gap between perception and reality becomes so great, Stanford is teaching the wrong things, and everyone loses.