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High Cost of Being on the Wrong Coast

Published on July 17th, 2019

A Stanford sailor arrived at the university’s gleaming boathouse to clean out her locker at the end of the school year. The doors would not open. “Did they change the locks again?” she said with an air of exasperation.

It was a reasonable question. In March, when the sailing coach John Vandemoer was fired after being snared in a nationwide admissions scandal, the locks were changed at the Arrillaga Family Rowing and Sailing Center. In April, they were changed again, after the men’s rowing coach Craig Amerkhanian was mysteriously fired — late in the season, weeks before his planned retirement.

Stanford’s boating troubles stem from the work of William Singer, the private college consultant who collected millions of dollars in payments from wealthy parents and paid college coaches and athletic administrators to designate non-athletes as recruits for admissions purposes at elite universities.

Vandemoer, who pleaded to conspiracy to commit racketeering, was the first to be sentenced: six months of home confinement for receiving more than $600,000 from Singer in exchange for designating applicants as sailing recruits.

Vandemoer, who put the money from Singer into a fund that supports Stanford’s sailing program, lost his job and his Stanford housing. He now lives at the vacation home of a Stanford benefactor and coaches privately, at a club run by his wife, just a few hundred yards from the Stanford boathouse.

For years, Amerkhanian and Vandemoer operated out of a contemporary two-story boathouse on the edge of San Francisco Bay. A problem they had in common was the cost of competing against colleges in the Northeast. In the 2018-19 school year, the sailing team made 15 trips east of the Mississippi River.

According to Department of Education data on operating expenses, Stanford spent $182,000 on its sailing program in 2017 — more than any school other than Boston College, and nearly double what Yale and Georgetown spent.

But Vandemoer said in an interview before his sentencing that his budget did not include equipment; his biggest fund-raising need was to replace a fleet of 18 sailboats — at a cost of about $120,000 — every five to eight years.

Though Stanford said its coaches do not have fund-raising benchmarks, the external pressures to finance these programs were touched on in letters supporting Vandemoer to the judge who sentenced him.

Joseph W. McCoy, a Stanford alumnus and avid sailor, wrote: “I am not at all surprised with how such low-profile and poorly funded sports like sailing, soccer, rowing, etc., became such easy targets in this rather ingenious criminal operation that created this mess.”

Editor’s note: This story was edited from a longer version by the NY Times.

The Stanford boathouse in Redwood City, Calif. Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

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