UT Tennis Coach Michael Center appears before federal judge

From courtside to the courthouse: UT Head Men's Tennis Coach Michael Center was released from Federal custody Tuesday afternoon after appearing before an Austin judge.

Center's Attorney Dan Cogdell says his client was arrested at his home around 6:00 Tuesday morning.  

"When the FBI knocks on your door, pounds on your door with 8 guys in SWAT uniform, it's never a good day," Cogdell said.

But Center is innocent according to Cogdell.

"I know how we're going to plea, we're going to plea not guilty because he is not guilty," Cogdell said.

A criminal complaint released Tuesday charges Center with "Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud" and "Honest Services Mail Fraud."

According to a "cooperating witness" in the investigation, in 2015 Center agreed to accept approximately $100,000 from the witness as a bribe...some of that money, was delivered to Center in a hotel parking lot.

In exchange Center would designate an applying student from California as a recruit to the UT Tennis team.

That recruit's athletic experience?  One year of tennis, freshman year of high school.

After being admitted to the school, the student withdrew from the tennis team and dropped his scholarship.

"He's devastated by this accusation.  He's a guy without so much as a jaywalking ticket in his history, he's a fine man, he's a great coach, he's a great husband, he's a great father," Cogdell said.

Fox-7 Austin spoke with criminal law attorney David Gonzalez to get his perspective.  He's not connected to the case.

He says it's unusual and feels Center is less culpable than the cooperating witness.

"This person who is in a tremendous amount of trouble with the government is making this deal because they're in such hot water, the only way they can get out of it is trying to be able to get everybody else in that stew.  Meaning that they might start pulling anybody and everyone to lessen their own exposure," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez says the investigation may shift the national conversation about college admissions.

"For a long time it's always been about race.  These people who may not have been qualified because of their SAT scores are getting in, where another student may not have.  What about students that actually were getting in because of athletic reasons who weren't either qualified athletically or academically and are displacing everybody else from getting into schools and I think the indictment doesn't go so far into that...but you asked me what might happen and I think that it might create a national dialogue on that part of the process as well," Gonzalez said.

UT's Athletics Director Chris Del Conte issued a statement this afternoon saying it's a difficult day for them.

"...We have placed Coach Center on leave until further notice while we cooperate with the federal law enforcement authorities in reviewing this situation. In the meantime, with our Men's Tennis team in the middle of its competitive season, associate head coach Bruce Berque, will serve as our interim head coach going forward as we continue to gather information."

The tennis team actually has a match Tuesday night.  Center was discussing that with the judge.  His attorney says Del Conte notified his family after the hearing that he was being placed on leave.

Alumni with UT were surprised to hear about the recent charges.

“I'm in shock, this is a guy that's highly respected. He's had the team competing in the top places across the country for a long time,” said Manuel Trevino who not only attended the university but is a big tennis fan.

Trevino says he is worried about the athletes because this news comes in the middle of Texas Tennis’ season.

“When you are playing a lot of things distract you so if you have something on the back of your mind for sure this is going to bother them. Hopefully they can just focus on the game but it's going to be hard,” said Trevino.

Center's attorney says his next official court appearance will be March 25th in Boston where these charges originate.  Again, he'll be entering a not guilty plea.

The University of Texas released a statement saying:

Center is not alone. Racketeering consipracy charges were brought against coaches at schools including Wake Forest, Georgetown and the University of Southern California. Authorities say the coaches accepted bribes in exchange for admitting students as athletes regardless of their ability.

Actress Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin are also among those charged in the case.

Over the years The Edge and College Career Network, who arranged payments to coaches, claims they took in more than $25 million from parents wanting their children admitted into prestigious universities.