‘Operation Varsity Blues’: What the Netflix doc gets right about the scandal
In 2019 Lori Loughlin & Felicity Huffman found themselves in the middle of a very public college admissions scandal. The two actresses became the face of a very serious FBI investigation into the fraudulent college admission of kids from exceptionally rich & powerful families. However, these two women weren’t the only people under investigation and the FBI brought federal charges against more than fifty people in total.
An array of people were charged, including three people accused of organizing the crime, a college administrator, nine coaches from elite universities, two ACT/SAT administrators, an exam proctor, and thirty-three parents. The FBI investigation was dubbed Operation Varsity Blues and focussed on a massive scheme that allowed rich & powerful people to cheat & bribe their kids’ way into elite colleges around the country.
Netflix has released a documentary on the ordeal. Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal includes reenacted footage that depicts the investigation. At the center of the documentary is Rick Singer, the college admissions adviser who orchestrated the entire scheme. Journey with us as we investigate Netflix’s depiction of the college admissions scandal.
Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal places Rick Singer (Matthew Modine) as the leading “character” in this tale. The documentary depicts recordings of telephone conversations Singer had with his clients as he orchestrated this colossal scheme. However, Operation Varsity Blues isn’t all just reenacted dramatizations.
Dispersed between the reenacted scenes are interviews with real people involved in the investigation. Singer’s former colleagues, investigators, lawyers, and others all weigh in on how Rick Singer and all the people involved were able to pull off such an enormous scheme.
Despite the fact that Operation Varsity Blues does focus on some of the more famous people that clearly abused their privilege, it shines a wider light on the upper class in general. This isn’t just a story about how one person was able to manipulate the system, it’s a story about how the college system is rigged in favor of the privileged elite in the United States.
Parents & standardized testing
Operation Varsity Blues also criticizes the current state of standardized testing in the United States and the role that industry plays in the college admissions process. Students from lower-income, underprivileged families typically perform far worse on the SAT & ACT tests than their peers of more stable income households.
The documentary also shines a critical light on the mindset of some of the parents involved in the scandal. It is clear that some of the children involved in this scheme didn’t even know that they were being implicated by their parents. Some parents worked with Singer behind their childrens’ backs to orchestrate fabricated test scores and means to gain access to these top-tier schools.
Whether or not the kids knew about what was happening, it was made abundantly clear in Operation Varsity Blues that these children of these very wealthy people would not have been able to access these schools of their own volition.
Despite the fact that the media used Lori Loughlin & Felicity Huffman as the faces of this scandal in their coverage, Rick Singer is actually the real central figure here. The documentary rightly depicts him so. Singer’s evolution from high school basketball coach in Sacramento to shady college admissions adviser drives the story.
In the documentary, Singer identifies what he calls the “front door” entry into these elite colleges. This is the legitimate way, through authentic test scores, grades, and applications.
He then identifies the “back door” way in. This is when incredibly wealthy families make multimillion-dollar donations to the school as a way to get priority for their child’s application. Although not a legitimate practice, this is not new and certainly not created by Singer.
The documentary depicts how Singer created the “side door” entry into these elite schools. He realized niche sports that are really only accessible to the very rich & famous could serve as a way to get folks a side door entrance as these sports were grossly underfunded. Sports programs like fencing, water polo, rowing, horseback riding, and sailing became the target of Singer’s scam.
Singer set about bribing coaches & athletic directors to take on kids that actually had no background or proficiency in these chosen sporting areas. The college admissions committees turned a blind eye or actually trusted the coaches enough not to vet the candidates. Instead of forking out millions of dollars to get their kids into these schools, folks were only handing over tens of thousands, making this “side door” more appealing.
Many of the people charged were convicted & sentenced to jail time. The jail sentences varied greatly in their length. Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admission Scandal is available to stream on Netflix now.