Waking up Wednesday morning, who knew that the sweep of the Penn men’s basketball team by Dartmouth and Harvard, as well as Tuesday’s blowout loss to Princeton by the women’s team, would not be the worst news of the week for the Quakers?
At high noon, the NCAA released a statement and report detailing its investigation into former Penn men’s head coach, Jerome Allen, who received bribes from Florida businessman Philip Esformes to place his son, Morris Esformes, onto the recruited athletes list for the entering class of 2015. Minutes later, Penn Athletics released its own statement on the report.
According to the report, Penn began discussions with the NCAA enforcement staff regarding likely violations shortly after learning of Allen’s involvement in the bribery scheme in July 2018. Following its internal investigation, which was led by Chuck Smrt of The Compliance Group, the school self-reported potential violations to the enforcement staff in January 2019. Afterwards, the enforcement staff and Penn began a collaborative investigation.
The two groups agreed Allen’s actions resulted in multiple tryout and recruiting contact violations in addition to accepting the supplemental pay without reporting it as athletically related income while employed at the university. In addition, the former head coach, who refused to be interviewed, did not promote an atmosphere for compliance within the men’s basketball program due to his personal involvement in the violations.
As a result, Allen was hit with a 15-year show-cause order. During this time, any NCAA member school employing him must restrict him from any athletically related duties unless it shows cause why the restrictions should not apply. If any institution hires Allen as a coach the year after the expiration of the show-cause period, the school must suspend him for the first 50% of that season.
This show-cause punishment ties the longest in NCAA history, matching the punishment instituted this past July against Phil Collins (no, not that Phil Collins), a former women’s basketball assistant coach at UNC Greensboro who bet on professional and college sports, including Spartans’ men’s basketball games.
Allen, who was hired as an assistant coach for the NBA’s Boston Celtics in July 2015, remains with the organization. The Celtics were contacted by IHO to discuss this latest development and have not yet responded.
The institution and enforcement staff also agreed that a proposed finding of fact for failure to monitor or lack of institutional control was not appropriate.
Although self-reporting infractions, cooperating with the NCAA and enhancing its student-athlete recruiting process (see Report Appendix pages 12-13), Penn and the men’s basketball team were hit with a number of penalties.
- Two years of probation from February 26, 2020, through February 25, 2022
- A financial penalty of $5,000 to the NCAA
- A three-week ban on all recruiting communications for men’s basketball from May 10 through May 20, 2020 and May 31 through June 10, 2020
- A reduction in the men’s basketball program’s recruiting person days for the 2019-20 academic year by seven
- Public reprimand and censure
- Continue to develop and implement a comprehensive compliance and educational program
on NCAA legislation to instruct coaches, the faculty athletics representative, all athletics department personnel and all institution staff members with responsibility for NCAA recruiting and certification legislation;
- Submit a preliminary report to the OCOI (Office of the Committee on Infractions) by April 15, 2020, setting forth a schedule for establishing this compliance and educational program
- File with the OCOI annual compliance reports indicating the progress made with this program by December 30 during each year of probation. Particular emphasis shall be placed on the institution’s compliance measures taken to ensure adherence with NCAA rules education related to recruiting, ethical conduct and head coach responsibility
- Inform prospects in the men’s basketball program in writing that the institution is on probation for two years and detail the violations committed. If a prospect takes an official paid visit, the information regarding violations, penalties and terms of probation must be provided in advance of the visit. Otherwise, the information must be provided before the prospect signs a National Letter of Intent
- Publicize specific and understandable information concerning the nature of the violations by providing, at a minimum, a statement to include the types of violations and the involved sport programs and a direct, conspicuous link to the public infractions decision located on the athletics department’s main webpage “landing page” and in the media guides of the involved sports programs. The institution’s statement must: (i) clearly describe the violations; (ii) include the length of the probationary period associated with the case; and
(iii) give members of the general public a clear indication of what happened in the case to allow the public (particularly prospects and their families) to make informed, knowledgeable decisions. A statement that refers only to the probationary period with nothing more is not sufficient
The Committee on Infractions, which consisted of Carol Cartwright, chief hearing officer for the panel and president emeritus at Kent State and Bowling Green, Kay Norton, president emeritus of Northern Colorado, and Joseph D. Novak, former head football coach at Northern Illinois, reviewed the case to determine whether the resolution was in the best interests of the Association and whether the agreed-upon penalties were reasonable.
The Committee advised Penn and Allen that they should take every precaution to ensure that they observe the terms of the penalties. The group will monitor Penn while it is on probation to ensure compliance with the penalties and terms of probation and may extend the probationary period, among other action, if the school does not comply or commits additional violations.
Additionally, any action by Penn or Allen contrary to the terms of the penalties or any additional violations shall be considered grounds for prescribing more severe punishments and/or may result in additional allegations and violations.
According to the NCAA’s statement, negotiated resolutions may not be appealed and do not set case precedent for other infractions cases.
Despite agreeing to the negotiated resolution, Penn Athletics noted its displeasure with the school’s punishment in a statement:
While Penn Athletics and its men’s basketball program accept the penalties handed down by the NCAA, it is unfortunate that this process did not fully differentiate wrongdoing for personal gain versus wrongdoing for competitive gain in penalizing the institution in addition to the involved individual. The University of Pennsylvania was harmed by the actions of its former head coach and the men’s basketball program received no competitive advantage. We are hopeful that this case will lead to changes in how the NCAA processes similar situations moving forward.
The Ivy League released a statement Thursday:
The Ivy League has appreciated Penn’s transparent and proactive information sharing throughout this investigation. The league office directs you to the statement Penn provided and supports its conclusion that there was only personal gain, not competitive, related to this incident.
While Penn hopes for this to be the conclusion to one of the darker periods in the history of the school, the athletic department and the men’s basketball program, there are serious questions that still remain.
- The school still has not explained how the younger Esformes, whose reported SAT scores were 70 to 150 points below the 25th percentile of accepted students in the entering class of 2015 with a 10.2% acceptance rate, was allowed to remain at the university and graduate in the spring of 2019.
- There was no information in the report regarding which members of the coaching staff that were present during the 2013-2015 recruitment of Morris Esformes were interviewed.
- Although the report noted “all former men’s basketball staff members and athletics administrators indicated that the head coach never discussed any of his trips to Miami or the prospect, other than to remind them that he was in the incoming class of recruits”, a July 2019 Sports Illustrated article, written with the aid of court transcript and exhibits, financial records, news reports and interviews with three dozen of his friends, classmates, teachers, coaches, players, mentors and coworkers, has information that either contradicts that comment or notes information that was not addressed in the report:
“When Allen was let go, he testified in court, (Philip) Esformes wanted assurances that Morris—finally about to enroll—would still make the team. He asked Allen if he could pay Penn assistant Ira Bowman, the only coach on staff who knew about their agreement. Allen and Bowman had played together at Penn; Bowman had even lived at Allen’s mom’s house one semester. So Allen set up a separate account and whenever Esformes wired the monthly payment, the coach transferred part of it to Bowman.”
“In court, Allen recalled being alarmed when one of his assistants at Penn asked why he was in Miami.”
“As Allen and (Philip) Esformes’s relationship progressed, the coach began to bring four of his players down to Miami with him, Quakers who had rough backgrounds similar to his own. They’d stay at the mansion, hang out and play basketball with Morris—often at the two-story facility Philip had built down the road, replete with an indoor court, weight room and kitchen. At times Allen ran them through what amounted to a typical Penn practice.
This became a somewhat open secret among the Quakers. Still, Allen feared their agreement was getting too public. He often pleaded with Esformes to tighten his circle.”
IHO has reached out to Penn Athletics, Auburn University (where former Penn assistant coach Ira Bowman is an assistant coach) and Rice University (where former Penn assistant coach Scott Pera is head coach) for comments. There have been no responses from any of the institutions as of this time.
IHO will continue to follow this story and update it if there is any new information.
This post has been updated to include the Ivy League’s statement.