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2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships - Day Two
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

The most recent scandal at USC — involving other schools, sure, but for our purposes mostly USC — has taught us so much in such a short amount of time.

It’s taught us that giggling when you hear the words “Stanford sailing coach” and imagining them capable of all kinds of caper-y fraud were both fine and logical responses. It turns out the Stanford sailing coach is up to exactly the kind of upper class-adjacent scammery they should be up to because — well, because honestly, shouldn’t a sailing coach be doing some kind of skullduggery? They’re sailors, after all. They should follow the piratical laws of the sea only.

It’s taught us that Aunt Becky from Full House is not about the fugitive life, having turned herself in peacefully to the FBI. This is a disappointment. Lori Laughlin is from Queens, and at the very least we expected a couple of days of tense negotiations from encrypted satellite phones. A John Stamos-as-accomplice subplot would have been entertaining, too, though we all know who the real down-as-hell gangster in the Full House cast was. (It’s Dave Coulier, because no one ever suspects a Canadian of doing crimes.)

It’s taught us that actually by private school standards, Lynn Swann was qualified to be the Athletic Director at the school despite never having done the job. Maybe overqualified, actually, since he was a star athlete for real, and photoshopped nothing on his resume.

It’s taught everyone to be rich enough to do the crimes that are legal. Everyone in the USC case is just rich enough to bribe someone, but not wealthy enough to engage in the criminality so expensive it’s considered tradition. No one here was wealthy enough to buy a building and get their unqualified child into a college, or fund an endowed chair, or connected enough to pull a few strings and have their child admitted for political reasons.

No: These people had to pay middlemen, and those middlemen got them caught. Next time, come with enough money to bypass them completely. When compared to the rest of the university industry, college athletics is the little scam, the one prohibited by rule. The little ones get the FBI’s attention. The big ones are just considered smart business.

In a lot of cases, the kids can’t be blamed. One kid’s parents touted his track experience in the application without his knowledge, going as far as to include a photo of a completely different dude pole-vaulting in his application. The kid found this out in a meeting with a college counselor who asked about his athletic record — a history he didn’t know and couldn’t talk about because it didn’t exist in the first place.

A part of us hopes he did not have to prove his pole vaulting skills in front of strangers. A part of us hopes he did. The rich and unending human condition!

There are those kids, taken along for a ride on the waterslide of grifty privilege without their knowledge, and there are those who undoubtedly knew. But even if an applicant knew they were getting a spot on the water polo team in order to get into a college they could not otherwise qualify for? It still takes a big person to turn down that kind of connect, one that not many seventeen or eighteen year olds can be in the face of family pressure, youthful inexperience, and the crushing fear of falling behind status-wise relative to their peers.

Those who can and do? They should be celebrated as positive examples. Those who had privilege and disdained it, choosing their own path without the gift of a hand up, those rare birds should be studied for their integrity. These are real Americans, those looking to earn a spot on the roster and at the school on their qualifications alone.

Those who, say, might have had legacy/family admissions at Harvard University as an option. Those who had siblings at the school, siblings who played football well and who would bolster any case for admission to one of this nation’s most selective and prestigious schools. Those who had a wealthy father’s money to lean on should they need it, even if that father graduated from what he calls “The Harvard of the South, aka Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.”

Someone who looked at the vast networking opportunities available at a place like Harvard, and then said “NO, I will instead forge my own way and create my own cosmos of importance. You may take your classes in Cambridge with scholars of the know-nothing ivory tower. I will matriculate at the feet of the Head Ball Coach, and find my peers at Pavlov’s, Jake’s, or any number of fine lecture halls located within easy striking distance of the campus at the University of South Carolina.”

What kind of legend does this, one asks?

South Carolina v Auburn
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

That’s right: The last SEC East quarterback to beat Alabama, Stephen Glenn Garcia, an American hero for that if nothing else.