The Radio Times logo

Gripping true story behind Netflix's Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal

Everything you need to know about the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal featured in the Operation Varsity Blues.

Operation Varsity Blues
Published: Thursday, 18th March 2021 at 10:36 am

Netflix are diving beyond the celebrity-driven headlines and looking at the 2019 college admissions scandal - which saw wealthy families going to extreme lengths to get their children into elite colleges - in their latest documentary titled Operation Varsity Blues.


Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal will explore the methods used by William Rick Singer, the man at the centre of it all, to persuade his wealthy clients to cheat an educational system.

Here's everything you need to know about the 2019 scandal featured in Netflix's new documentary.

When is Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal on Netflix?

The documentary will be available to stream on Netflix from Wednesday, March 17th at 7:00 am.

What is the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal?

In 2019, a scandal over a criminal conspiracy to influence undergraduate admissions decisions at several top American universities came to light.

The investigation into the conspiracy was given the code name “Operation Varsity Blues”.

On March 12th, 2019, the investigation and related charges were made public by the United States federal prosecutors.

The scandal is said to have operated in multiple ways.

According to a criminal complaint, administrators of the SAT and ACT college exams were bribed, allowing someone else to pretend to be the student and take the exam in their place.

In other cases, the supervisors gave the students answers or fixed their wrong answers after the test had been taken.

Sometimes, the children were said to have faked learning disabilities so that they could take the tests at centres where the staff had been paid off or were aware of the scheme.

Parents reportedly paid between $15,000 and $75,000 per test to participate in the scheme, which was allegedly put together by William Rick Singer, who ran a college prep company called The Key.

It was also reported that in another part of the scheme, college coaches received bribes to put down applicants as “recruited athletes”, regardless of their ability or whether they wanted to play the sport they were being assigned to. As a recruited athlete, students would have an automatic boost during the admissions process.

Prosecutors say clients reportedly paid Singer a total of $25m to bribe coaches and university administrators.

Although it was only brought to the public's attention in 2019, according to authorities, the admissions scam has been going on since 2011.

Who is William Rick Singer?

Singer is known as the mastermind behind the college admissions scandal. He was in charge of the two firms involved in the scheme, Key Worldwide Foundation and The Edge College & Career Network (also known as "The Key").

In a wire-tapped conversation in 2018, Singer told one of his clients: “What we do is we help the wealthiest families in the US get their kids into school."

William Rick Singer
William Rick Singer Netflix

In March of 2019, Singer pleaded guilty to charges of fraud, racketeering, obstruction and money laundering. He cooperated with the FBI to gather incriminating evidence and co-conspirators.

He said he unethically facilitated college admission for children in more than 750 families.

Singer faces up to 65 years in prison, and a fine of $1.25 million (£900.4 million).

Where is William Rick Singer now?

Although it has been two years since Singer initially pleaded guilty, he has yet to appear in court for his sentencing.

Who else was involved?

Since the scandal became public knowledge, at least 53 people have been charged as part of the conspiracy, including Felicity Huffman - who is best known for her role on the TV show Desperate Housewives - and actress Lori Loughlin, a cast member on the TV series Full House and 90210. Other defendants in the case include parents and college athletics coaches.

The complaint says Huffman paid $15,000 to cheat on her oldest daughter’s SATs, while Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, agreed to a pay bribes totalling $500,000 in return of having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team – despite the fact that neither of them were rowers.

Felcity Huffman
Felicity Huffman Appeared in court for sentencing after pleading guilty to college admission fraud charges Getty Images

Following the scandal, a number of those involved have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty.

Huffman pleaded guilty to mail fraud, and on September 13, was sentenced to 14 days in jail, one year of supervised release, fined $30,000 and ordered to undertake 250 hours of community service.

Loughlin pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and was sentenced to two months in prison, two years of supervised release, a $150,000 fine and 100 hours of community service.


Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal comes to Netflix on March 17th 2021. Check out our lists of the best series on Netflix and the best movies on Netflix, or see what else is on with our TV Guide. Also, visit our dedicated Documentaries hub for more news.


Sponsored content