In 2008, Michael Rosenthal graduated high college in Miami as arguably the excellent water polo participant inside the kingdom. He had just been named a first-team All American, his group had gained the nation name, and his place of birth Herald had called him the Water Polo Player of the Year. But, Rosenthal says, “I wasn’t a top recruit. I was an unknown.” He provides, “I’m now not saying I was off-the-radar. But the satisfactory water polo player in Florida, on a given yr, is probably an average player in California.”
The Golden State is the hotbed of American water polo. The high-quality gamers come from and where the top college teams are living: Stanford, Cal Berkeley, UCLA, or USC. As Rosenthal went through the recruiting technique, a few of his former coaches linked him with Jovan Vavic, the mythical USC water polo educate. You ought to call Vavic the John Wooden of water polo—and its Geno Auriemma, too. He coached both the guy’s and girls’ teams, and for the reason that 1995 had gained 16 national titles (10 with the men, six with the ladies) and 15 National Coach of the Year awards.
That intended Vavic should recruit nearly everybody he desired. USC also gave him leeway to signal a large quantity of those recruits, precisely at the guys’ facet. In water polo recruiting, see, there are just a few constraints. The NCAA mandates that teams can best carry sixteen players inside the championship event, and the variety of scholarships is constant, too—men’s groups have 4.5, girls’ teams have 8. But the NCAA does no longer has a max roster restriction. So teams can bring as many gamers as they want, as long as the college is compliant with Title IX regulations requiring stability among the variety of male and girl athletes inside the powerful application. Often, Vavic could carry in hordes of male recruits, seemingly to peer who might pan out.
In 2008, Vavic signed 22 rookies, bumping the USC guys’ water polo roster as many as fifty-one people, which dwarfed maximum other colleges. Only six learners acquired gambling time that yr. The different 16, such as Rosenthal, redshirted.
Now, why Vavic might convey a roster that massive? Well, know this: Everything about his program had a motive to it. Vavic regularly drew from coaches his favorite: Phil Jackson. Tom Osborne. Wooden. “He’d take these philosophies,” Rosenthal says, “after which placed his very own Eastern European water polo twist on it.”
As a young man, Vavic performed water polo professionally in vintage Yugoslavia earlier than coming to Southern California in 1984. After arriving at USC, as an assistant in the early ‘90s, he started building his education fashion, borrowing techniques from different sports activities. He shaped a management council with his maximum depended on gamers and empowered them to police their teammates. He made gamers evaluate themselves in front of the crew and attend everyday meditation sessions. He studied film obsessively and changed into continuously coming up with revolutionary play designs. Every recreation, he’d distribute a packet of plays for various situations. Like many successful coaches, he turned into additionally paranoid. Vavic might practice his satisfactory plays in the summer and then shop them for the NCAA tournament. “We constantly had exact plays, nearly like a soccer crew,” says Matthew Burton, some other member of that incoming freshman elegance in 2008. “That became very special from a variety of the coaches in the collegiate device.”
Vavic would work with his pinnacle gamers at one stop of the pool, while his assistants schooled the redshirts at the other, so they may finally contribute. Then Vavic might weed out the weaker players together with his grueling practices, his grating coaching fashion, and hours of “punishment” swims. The coaches additionally tasked the redshirts by doing abnormal jobs around the pool. They’d assist installation of the desires, refill the Gatorade coolers, and movie some practices and video games. “We don’t have ball boys, always,” says Burton. “But that’s kind of what their position became.”
During a few games, Rosenthal recollects that the redshirts could sit together inside the stands, dress in USC gear, and act because of the team’s cheering phase. “We would cheer like maniacs the entire sport,” Rosenthal says. As a result, it might be not easy to decide who become a member of the crew and who wasn’t.
Last week, Jovan Vavic became arrested as part of a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal and become directly fired. He is accused of signing two faux recruits—who had never performed competitive water polo—to assist them in gaining admission to USC, in alternate for bribes from their mother and father. According to an affidavit filed by federal prosecutors, Vavic worked in conjunction with Donna Heinel, a USC partner athletic director, and a man named Rick Singer, who operated a university counseling business and a purported charity business enterprise in Southern California.
According to the affidavit, Singer could create an “athletic profile” for the student, complete with falsified stats, doctored photos, or even fake awards. Then Vavic or Heinel, accepting cash from Singer, would present the profile, alongside the ones of real water polo recruits, to a USC admissions subcommittee that reviewed incoming athletes.
It seems USC took Vavic at his phrase. This isn’t always that unusual inside the collegiate water polo global. One former D-I educate says that after he submitted his roster, his superiors just customary it, apparently without vetting the names in any respect. Not every faculty has the time or resources to conduct historical past assessments on small-recreation recruits. There is no centralized database for water polo recruiting, no Rivals.Com of pool sports. The pinnacle players in u . S. Might also know each other, but mid-tier gamers can come from everywhere. Vavic traveled the arena seeking to unearth new skills, so it changed into the potential he might convey in some unknown recruits. According to courtroom files, Heinel once defended a faux hire to the admissions office, claiming Vavic had observed the boy at a tournament in Serbia.
Vavic might be convincing, too. In one case, he emailed a USC athletics administrator that such faux recruits “will be the quickest participant on our team” and that he may want to swim 50 yards in 20 seconds—two seconds quicker than his quickest gamers. “This youngster can fly,” Vavic wrote. Of course, it becomes a complete fabrication. USC admitted the boy just two days later.
It’s uncertain whether or not his faux recruits ever saw the pool or in which the cash paid on their behalf—the going fee seemed to be between $220,000 and $250,000—ended up. In addition, Singer allegedly made private college training payments for Vavic’s youngsters. But Singer additionally instructed a figure, in a wiretapped communication, that he believed Vavic frequently used the cash to “subsidize” the salaries of his assistant coaches, who did so much to hold his dynasty is going. (None of Vavic’s assistants have been charged.)
It appeared like a suitable crime. If one of these fake recruits took place to leave the team, no one might’ve observed, due to the fact Vavic’s teams, specifically the guy’s team, had a lot of attrition. Players would depart all the time, sad with their gambling time, bored stiff over Vavic’s education fashion, or certainly extra interested by that specialize in faculty. “I’d say there were typically 5 to six men that [dropped out] every yr,” Burton says.
Remember, Rosenthal become one of sixteen freshmen that redshirted in 2008. Of those sixteen, most effective Rosenthal and others remained on the crew four years later, as fifth-12 months seniors. They ended up leaving USC, having won 5 consecutive countrywide championships.