When he was the head men's basketball coach at Harvard University in the 1980s, Peter Roby said his team could only target about 10 percent of the recruiting pool.
"We would go to a camp, there might be ten kids out of 100 that we could realistically recruit that had a chance of getting into Harvard," Roby said. “They're not qualified. They can't do the work academically or they don't have the qualifications to get admissions to feel comfortable."
Roby said he would make recommendations, but Harvard admissions never gave him a specific number of slots to fill, like the ones the former women's soccer coach at Yale University, Rudy Meredith, traded for bribes in the college admissions scandal.
With a dozen college coaches charged in the scandal due in federal court in Boston on Monday, the case is raising questions about how selective schools recruit athletes. The coaches allegedly accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, agreeing to pretend that applicants with fake athletic credentials were recruited, competitive athletes.
Even before the scam was unveiled earlier this month, Americans were already lukewarm about considering athletic talent in college admissions. A 2018 WGBH News poll found 37 percent of those surveyed said colleges should not consider it. The scandal has only further undermined public trust in the fairness of college admissions, at least at selective schools.
Harvard says it doesn't reserve slots for recruited varsity athletes in its admitted freshman class. Applications of recruited athletes are reviewed by the full admissions committee and student athletes must be interviewed by an admissions officer or alumni.
Tony Jack, an assistant professor at Harvard and author of "The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students," said he does not find it hard to imagine that coaches at other selective schools could put so many bogus recruits on their lists without administrators noticing it.
“There’s a lot of power and money and alumni giving and resources put into athletics," said Jack, who grew up poor in Miami before he was recruited to play football at Amherst College.
Jack said the bribery scandal, which primarily involved so-called country club sports like crew, water polo and sailing, shows how elite colleges shut out poor and minority students even before they arrive on campus.
"People love to say that lower-income students, black and Latino students, first-generation students are overmatching — they're going to schools that are too big for their britches,” Jack said. “Who's overmatching when you had every single advantage and you still had to cheat to get in?"
To level the playing field, Jack urged schools to stop giving so much weight to athletic talent.
"There's no social, political, or even moral justification for athletics,” he said. “It has a lot to do with economics. Who's going to give? And who's going to give for what?”
Elizabeth Heaton, who worked at the University of Pennsylvania as the liaison between the admissions and athletics departments, said, "It's hard to imagine athletics not being a consideration without re-imagining what we think of as college in this country."
At Penn, "there was a person who functioned as the intermediary between the coaches and the athletics liaison so that we were never talking directly to the coaches,” Heaton recalled. “We were talking to the person who talked to the coaches."
Heaton says more schools should create buffers between admissions and athletics to prevent fraud.
While some college leaders are hoping the scandal sparks such fundamental reforms, Jack is skeptical.
"I really want to say yes,” Jack said. “Let's see if these people even go to jail."
On Monday afternoon, a federal judge in Boston is expected to set bail and decide whether the coaches can be trusted to return to court.
"I've never heard of anything like this before," said retired federal judge Nancy Gertner.
Gertner said if the coaches are convicted, the amount of the bribes should shape their sentences. Gertner predicted many of the coaches will face prison time.
"The more money they took by way of bribes, the higher their sentence is likely to be," she said.
The man who organized the scheme, Rick Singer, is expected to get a lesser sentence — but a substantial one — because he has pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with authorities.