Texas Men Win N.C.A.A. Tennis Title After Coach’s Arrest in Admission Scandal

On the day in March when the news broke that the University of Texas men’s tennis coach, Michael Center, had been arrested in connection with a college admissions bribery scheme, the team held a meeting with athletic director Chris Del Conte and the assistant coach Bruce Berque.

The message was simple: No one knew exactly how this crisis would end, but Berque was taking over on an interim basis, and the players should continue as they had before. Berque emphasized that the players, who have only four years to compete in college, should not let the unexpected events distract them from making the most of their experience.

Two months later, the Longhorns were national champions.

In one of the more remarkable conclusions to a college sports season, Texas defeated Wake Forest, the defending national champion, on Sunday at the United States Tennis Association’s campus in Orlando, Fla., to capture its first men’s tennis title.

“What a special achievement by the players,” Berque said in a telephone interview Monday. “I am so proud of them and what they were able to overcome and achieve.”

The Southern California women’s water polo team, whose coach was also fired after being indicted in the conspiracy, reached the national championship game last week but lost to Stanford.

Texas, ranked second, trailed Sunday after the doubles competition and needed to win four of six singles matches to beat the Demon Deacons. When the Longhorns’ Yuya Ito, a junior from Japan, won the clinching match against Petros Chrysochos, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, the Texas players poured onto the court to celebrate the improbable achievement in a pileup behind the baseline.

“It was the best moment of my life,” said Ito, who attended high school in Australia. “I had never clinched a big match before in my life, so it came at a good time.”

Christian Sigsgaard, Colin Markes and Rodrigo Banzer also won their singles matches to lead Texas to the title.

Michael Center, left, the former Texas tennis coach, leaving federal court in Boston in March, after facing charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal.CreditCharles Krupa/Associated Press

The Longhorns were able to keep their season afloat, Berque said, because of the leadership of the upperclassmen.

“I’m a firm believer that the strongest teams with the strongest cultures are led by the seniors,” Berque, 53, said. “All our guys did a tremendous job keeping everyone focused on the job at hand.”

Center was arrested on March 12 as part of a college admissions scandal in which coaches facilitated the admission of students into universities by offering them spots on their teams, even if the students were not proficient at the sport. Coaches in an array of sports — including sailing, rowing and soccer at several colleges — were charged in the conspiracy, along with the parents who paid them.

Center was accused of accepting $100,000, funneled to him by Rick Singer, a leader of the scheme, from the son of a California venture capitalist in 2015. In exchange, Center offered the son a place on the Texas team, even though he did not have the ability to play for the Longhorns and never joined the team. Center pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and could face 15 to 21 months in prison.

Berque, who is likely to be named as Center’s permanent replacement, said he knew nothing of the scheme and, like the players, was shocked when he heard of Center’s arrest.

The Longhorns were 14-1 at the time, and Center had very little, if any, contact with the team after his arrest. Berque said the only time he heard from his former boss was when Center said he thought it best to stay away from the team to avoid any distractions.

Berque was the coach of the Michigan men’s team from 2004 to 2014. He said his assistant coach at the time, Michael Kosta, was friends with the son of Steve Fisher.

Fisher was the assistant coach of the Michigan men’s basketball team in 1989, the year that its head coach, Bill Frieder, was fired just before the N.C.A.A. tournament because he had already accepted a new job at Arizona State. Fisher took over and led Michigan to the national championship.

“I did think of that,” Berque said. “I guess I am the Steve Fisher of Texas tennis.”

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