Although Jovan Vavic ruled collegiate water polo for years, UCLA should just be glad he’s gone.
The former USC men’s and women’s water polo coach was fired from both positions after he was indicted Tuesday for accepting bribes in order to help students get into USC through the athletics department. This brings an end to one of the most successful coaching careers in all of college athletics, and certainly one of the best in the history of water polo.
Since 1998, the year of Vavic’s first title, the Trojans have won 16 water polo championships – 10 with the men and six with the women.
This firing could dramatically change the dynamics of NCAA water polo.
On the men’s side, this might bring about a drastic shift in power around the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. USC has either won or been the runner-up every year since 2005. UCLA lost to USC in the semifinals last season, but upended the Trojans to win the title the year before.
The Trojans still have a national title to defend after all, but they must do so with a new coach – one who couldn’t possibly match Vavic’s prestige right off the bat.
While the women’s team has not dominated as much as the men, they have won every national title since 2010 that Stanford did not. They are currently 19-0 and have wins over UCLA, California and Stanford – their three biggest rivals. The Trojans have been ranked No. 1 in every poll this year after winning last year’s national title, and they are the odds-on favorites to win it again.
The team is still talented and has a good depth, but the loss of a legendary coach midseason could distract the Trojans and open the door for the Cardinal, Golden Bears or Bruins in the race for the title.
However, Vavic was not making as much as his less successful coach counterparts on campus. USC football coach Clay Helton earned $2.6 million last year to lead his team to a 5-7 record despite losses against rivals UCLA and Notre Dame.
Vavic, on the other hand, has had almost total control of both water polo programs for nearly two decades. He was held up on a pedestal by the university and was allowed to bring three of his children onto rosters during his tenure, but the salary never matched his reputation.
While Vavic’s salary is unknown, UCLA water polo coach Adam Wright made a little less than a quarter-million dollars in 2017, according to transparentcalifornia.com. If Vavic was paid like a football coach who won multiple titles, maybe he wouldn’t have had to take $250,000 in bribes on the side.
Even though he took bribes, he gained no competitive advantage over his opponents. His team still had to compete every game to win all 16 titles.That’s why one radical idea that has been thrown around by certain Bruin fans is not a good idea in the slightest.
Vacating titles is not an uncommon practice in NCAA investigations. In recent years, Louisville had to vacate their most recent title because coaches gave special benefits to athletes they were recruiting to entice them to come to their school.
But this is not the same situation. Vavic did not pay to get athletes to play for him, he got paid to help kids get into USC – a highly selective school – and those kids never made any contributions in the pool.
UCLA had its own part in this, with its men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo currently on leave after being named in the same report as Vavic. If one coach is forced to give up his wins and titles, would every team implicated be required to forfeit wins for their coach’s actions?
These students were not actual athletes. They pretended to be athletes, but either quit or faked an injury just to stay enrolled. Vavic did not gain any edge over his rivals in the pool, hence the program should not have those titles stripped away.
Vavic’s role in turning USC into a powerhouse in water polo is unprecedented. He was hugely successful while watching USC continuously overpay unsuccessful coaches in other sports. He leaves in turmoil, but to strip the program for one man’s folly is ridiculous.
But now the Bruins have the chance to capitalize on their rival’s chaos.