Stanford Promises Changes after Sailing Pay-to-Play Scandal

Stanford University is vowing to change its athletic recruitment process, after its head sailing coach was charged in a massive federal case where people made large gifts to collegiate sports programs in exchange for college admission.

Stanford University head sailing coach John Vandemoer, now fired, pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering conspiracy charge.

Stanford’s esteemed sailing coach, John Vandemoer, previously led Navy and St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s sailing teams to regional and national championships. He was fired from Stanford earlier this month when the government announced charges against him.

He pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy, after the investigation found he accepted $770,000 in financial gifts in exchange for recommending two prospective students for admission to Stanford. Vandemoer has said publicly that he didn’t keep the money for himself, rather, it went into the Stanford sailing program. Stanford said neither student wound up completing an application to Stanford, so no one was actually admitted or enrolled at Stanford with an improper recommendation from the sailing program.

The athletic program gifts were just one facet of a widespread admissions scheme that 58-year-old William “Rick” Singer reportedly operated to get the children of the wealthy and powerful into top universities. Singer owned a for-profit college prep business, and served as CEO of a supposed charity, The Key Worldwide Foundation. It was under this charity that the donations to Stanford sailing were made. Singer was charged with racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

How did Stanford not catch the fraud before the government did? By way of explanation, the university writes, “This scheme was complex and sophisticated, and it used legal means (a gift from a foundation) to achieve a fraudulent purpose.”

This week, Stanford announced it’s launching an external review of its athletics department student recommendations and its acceptance of athletic gifts. It has also added an extra layer of approval for athletic credentials for all prospective student-athletes.

In a new update, Stanford leaders write, “We are reviewing every Stanford applicant who has been involved in the athletic recruitment process to confirm their legitimate athletic credentials. We are working to make sure that no one with falsified athletic credentials is admitted to Stanford, and to date we have no evidence of any such person in this year’s applicant pool.”

As part of Vandemoer’s plea deal, his lawyer agreed to a recommended 18-month prison sentence. According to the U.S. Justice Department, a racketeering conspiracy charge could carry a sentence up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of $250,000, and restitution.

41-year-old Vandemoer served as Stanford head coach for 11 years, leading the team to 29 out of 30 spring conference championships. He was Navy’s head coach from 2006 to 2008, after a brief stint as assistant coach in the fall of 2006. He started his coaching career at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, serving as assistant coach from 2003 to 2006. During his tenure, St. Mary’s won the team championship (2004) and the Atlantic Coast conference championship (2006).

The Stanford sailing program website still lists Vandemoer’s accolades. Click here to read his full career history.

Nine-year Stanford assistant sailing coach Clinton Hayes is serving as the interim head coach as the sailing team continues its season as planned.

-Meg Walburn Viviano