USC fires three athletic department officials

USC fired three prominent members of its athletic department Tuesday — spurred by recent turmoil within the athletic department including the March 2019 college admissions scandal — according to the Los Angeles Times.

The athletic department’s Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer Steve Lopes, Trojan Athletic Fund senior associate director Ron Orr and associate athletic director Scott Jacobson are the three senior officials let go by the University. 

Lopes had spent 35 years working in USC’s athletic department and was believed to hold plenty of sway in the department’s decision making, according to the Times. He was also considered as a potential replacement for Pat Haden as the University’s next athletic director in 2016. Lynn Swann, who resigned in September 2019, was chosen as athletic director instead, but Lopes’ influence remained.

Orr had been an All-American swimmer as a student at USC and was promoted to senior associate athletic director in 2010. He worked with Jacobson in development and fundraising. Like Lopes, Orr had also been employed by the department for more than three decades. His role as Trojan Athletic Fund senior associate director involved close watch over the fundraising division of the department, which oversees donations from alumni and other donors.

The moves are the most recent developments for an athletic department that has long been riddled with scandal and has played a prominent role in the admissions scandal known as Operation Varsity Blues. Donna Heinel, USC’s former senior associate athletic director, was fired the day she was arrested for her involvement with the scandal and was indicted on federal bribery charges last year. Jovan Vavic, the former USC men’s and women’s water polo coach, was also fired for his role in the scheme.

The three were mentioned in emails filed by attorneys for defendant Robert Zangrillo in a Boston federal court. The emails revealed correspondence between Orr and Heinel concerning the admission status and bribes for a number of prospective students posing as athletes, including a suggestion from Orr that they guilt a certain family into following through with a proposed donation.

According to court documents, Lopes was also found to have recommended admission for a student with a supposed $1 million donation, Orr had recommended a women’s track and field athlete with a $500,000 donation and Jacobson had written a note for another recommendation that read “100,000 — no ask yet.”

Still, none of the three have faced charges as a result of the admissions scandal. 

Since Swann resigned as athletic director, President Carol Folt has expressed her desire to make integrity within the athletic department a top priority both in searching for a new athletic director — eventually Mike Bohn — and in restructuring the department moving forward. These most recent firings appear to be a significant action geared toward meeting these goals.

The University has yet to publicly announce a replacement for any of the three positions.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article classified Orr’s recommended student as providing a bribe, though the contribution appears to have been a legal donation. The article has been updated online. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.