“OPERATION VARSITY BLUES” REVIEW
Netflix released a documentary on March 17 called “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal.”
The film, which was directed by Chris Smith, who is known for his work on the docuseries “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness” focuses on the college admissions bribery scandal that took place in 2019. The scandal, better known as the college admission scandal or Operation Varsity Blues, was masterminded by Rick Singer; Singer is accused of using money, given to him by parents of perspective college students, to ensure that these students would be admitted into elite universities. He is believed to have done this by bribing university officials and using a standardized test proctor to change answers on the tests of children whose parents paid Singer.
The film opens with a compilation of high school students opening their admissions emails from universities and clips of media coverage about the scandal. It is made clear from the beginning of the film that it is a recreation of the events that transpired in the scandal. The film’s makers used recordings released in official trial documents to recreate some of the events of the scandal. They also used some actual footage taken of the people involved in the scandal and interviews with people involved or who knew the people involved.
Although the film focuses primarily on the actual scandal, it also includes some information about Singer’s background that led up to the events that took place. It is believed by investigators that Singer’s illegal activities began in 2011; however, he started his college consulting business more than a decade before that. He became a college consultant after being fired from a local college in Sacramento, California where he had been a basketball coach.
It was noted in the film, that he considered his way of getting students into top universities as “side-doors,” because the front door would just be applying, and the backdoor would be making donations to a University worth tens of millions of dollars.
Singer’s method cost only a few million dollars at the most but could often be done for much less. Singer, using a prospective student’s parent’s money, donated to the athletic department at the desired university. Singer was often in contact with people in these departments and would make sure that his clients got noticed when selecting who would be admitted to lesser-known sports programs such as rowing.
The other way his business worked was to ensure that his client’s child would do well on a standardized test such as the ACT or SAT. Singer did this by having a proctor that was on his payroll administer the test, then go back and change incorrect answers to better the grade.
The film also referenced Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and advisor to former President of the United States Donald Trump; the film noted that Kushner attended Harvard, despite being a fairly average student in high school. The film stated that Kushner was able to attend Harvard after his parents made a large donation to the university.
John Vandemoer was also interviewed for the film; at the time of the scandal, he was the sailing coach at Stanford University. Vandemoer was caught up in the scheme and even had direct dealings with Singer. Vandemoer is considered one the most innocent people involved in the scheme and was the only one who never pocketed any money himself. He served six months under house arrest and was given two years of probation plus a fine.
Vandemoer stated in the film that the Stanford University athletic director, Bernard Muir, also knew Singer. It was noted at the end of the film that Stanford University denied Muir’s involvement in the scheme.
The film also discussed Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, two of the biggest names involved in the scandal. Loughlin’s daughter, known professionally as Olivia Jade, was also a topic in the film.
Felicity Huffman served just under two weeks in prison for her involvement in the scandal. She paid to have one of her children’s Preliminary SAT scores changed. She pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud. Huffman plead guilty and was sentenced and served her sentence less than eight months after first being charged.
Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, on the other hand, initially pleaded not guilty. Their cases were drug out, but Loughlin was eventually sentenced to two months and Giannulli to five months in prison. Their sentences were longer because they paid 500 thousand to have the daughters admitted to the University of Southern California as part of the rowing team.
Near the end of the film, it was noted the Singer never actually made a mistake in his scheme that caused him to get caught. Investigators were alerted after someone associated with one of the coaches on Singer’s payroll tipped them off. The coach ultimately gave the information about Singer, and Singer cooperated with investigators in order to get a lighter sentence in court.