USC athletic director Lynn Swann: 'I was blindsided' by admissions scandal


As a college admissions scandal rocks the University of Southern California, athletic director Lynn Swann wants everyone to know he had no idea what was going on.

In his first comments since the Department of Justice indicted dozens of wealthy parents and several more college coaches and administrators, the NFL Hall of Famer told the Los Angeles Times that the first time he learned of the scandal was a phone call early Tuesday morning:

“The head of professionalism and ethics at the university [Michael Blanton] gave me a call and obviously when you get a call this early in the morning more often than not it’s not good news and it wasn’t,” Swann said Friday in his first public comments on the story. “He explained to me what was going on and I was blindsided. I was looking at my emails and I saw that the partner of one of my senior executive administrators [Donna Heinel] had said she wouldn’t be in this afternoon and, of course, Michael explained why that was the case.”

While the scandal hit many premier schools, none was hit harder than USC. Nearly half of the parents indicted were accused of bribing their children into USC. The school was also the only one to have an athletic administrator indicted in Donna Heinel, who faces racketeering conspiracy charges.

How one USC administrator broke the admissions process

Heinel is accused of using her power to designate more than 24 non-athletes as recruits, slipping them through the admissions process in exchange for bribes allegedly totaling more than $1.3 million. She and three other coaches implicated in the scandal have since been fired.

Swann said Heinel was able to do this because she was the only one in the department in charge of submitting records to USC’s athletic admissions committee and receiving the decisions.

“The reason why no one would know that this was happening is because we had one person in charge of submitting the academic records to our admissions department,” Swann said. “And that one person was in charge of getting that information back and distributing it to the coaches and letting other people know. So when there’s trust that this one person is doing the right thing, which Donna had been doing for years, there’s not a problem. … So a coach could give her a list of five names and she could add a sixth name, give it to admissions, have it go through, admissions gives it back to her, she gives it back to the coach with only the five names that the coach gave her. The coach doesn’t know, no one knows, except for the person who added the extra name.”

Swann said he plans to change his department’s procedures in the wake of the scandal.

Not the only USC scandal Lynn Swann has faced

To understand how turbulent Swann’s three-year tenure as USC athletic director has been, consider this column from Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel arguing that Swann deserves to be fired.

Now consider that column was written nearly four months ago, and that it only pertains to Swann’s management of USC football. It does not mention this admissions scandal, nor did it mention the FBI investigation in which USC basketball is among the programs to have coaches arrested.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 19:  USC Trojans Athletic Director Lynn Swann in the first half of a NCAA basketball game between the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins at the Galen Center on Saturday, January 19, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)
Does USC athletics need a new athletic director at the helm to get through this scandal? (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

Scandal has managed to even graze Swann itself, as it was alleged that Mossimo Giannulli, the fashion designer who is married to Lori Loughlin and among the indicted parents, traveled to Augusta, Ga. with USC’s athletic director. The affidavit does not specify if that director is Swann or his predecessor, Pat Haden. Both men are members of Augusta National Golf Club.

When asked by the Times about that allegation, Swann said he had never met Giannulli.

Even though he’s facing such turbulence, Swann told the Times he has no plans to resign. Of course, the heat facing Swann may change those plans in the future. At worst, he is complicit in an alleged crime for which dozens of people face serious jail time. At best, he was simply ignorant as scandal corrupted several corners of his athletic department. Neither is a good look.

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