Two years after the college admissions scandal known as Operation Varsity Blues dominated headlines, the case has made its way to Netflix, where the new movie Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal is now streaming. The film centers on scandal ringleader Rick Singer, who convinced parents to participate in his "side door" method to ensure their children were admitted to high-profile colleges.
In 2011, Singer created a for-profit college counseling company called the Key, which used two tactics to illegally gain students entrance into elite schools like Yale, Stanford and the University of Southern California. One tactic Singer used was to facilitate cheating on ACT and SAT exams by faking a student's need for extra time, which would allow them to take the exams with a proctor. The proctor, hired by Singer, would correct the students' answers without their knowledge to better their scores.
His other method was to bribe college athletics directors and coaches with donations to their programs as well as personal payments in exchange for them recruiting his clients as athletes in their programs. The children involved were largely unaware of their parents' participation in the scheme and while some posed for photos their parents sent to Singer, others' faces were put onto stock photos of people playing a sport. Parents would donate to Singer’s fake charity, the Key Worldwide Foundation, and he would then donate to college athletics programs or wire coaches directly.
The Netflix movie uses reenactments, with Singer played by Matthew Modine, to illustrate the scheme, as well as news reports and interviews with people involved in the case. Singer was caught by the FBI in 2018 and agreed to work with investigators to implicate his clients, and the film used actual FBI transcripts for its reenactments of conversations between Singer and others involved.
In total, 50 people — 33 parents, two SAT and ACT administrators, one exam proctor, nine college athletics coaches, and one college administrator — were charged in the scandal. The most high-profile defendants in the case were actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, the latter of whom was indicted along with husband Mossimo Giannulli.
Huffman pleaded guilty in May 2019 and was sentenced to two weeks in prison, one year of supervised release, 250 hours of community service, and fined $30,000. 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 fine of $150,000, and 100 hours of community service. Giannulli began his five-month sentence in November.
Recordings of Huffman and Loughlin's phone calls with Singer, who is currently awaiting charges in the case, were not included in the Netflix film. "We focused on the transcripts that offered the most in terms of pushing the story forward," director Chris Smith told Yahoo Entertainment. "Also, Felicity and Lori's story were already covered extensively in the media, so in making a documentary on subject matter that people think they already know, we were excited about trying to tell aspects and parts of the story that people might not be as familiar with."