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Penn basketball bribery scandal: Everything we know and what it means

This side of college basketball is not limited to the power schools.

NCAA Basketball: Navy at Pennsylvania Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The recent intrigue into ethics in college basketball, brought forth late last offseason by the FBI’s investigation into the sport, has been mostly limited to schools in major conferences, and with good reason. Those are, by and large, the best teams in the country. They have the highest profile players and coaches. And they stand to benefit the most by skirting the rules — something everyone and their mothers know has been happening for as long as college athletics has existed.

It may have been assumed some of this “stuff” was happening in Division I’s lower levels as well, but since it was rarely talked about or covered, we couldn’t pinpoint exactly what the issues were.

Then, over the weekend, Celtics assistant and former Penn head coach Jerome Allen was allegedly swept up in a federal bribery investigation, according to Bloomberg. Allen was not named specifically, but an indictment describes a school in Philadelphia and a coach matching Allen’s description.

The coach

Allen is a local product who is one of the most celebrated figures in Penn history, mainly for his time as a Quakers player who went on to play two-plus seasons in the NBA. The two-time Ivy League player of the year led Penn to three straight NCAA Tournament trips in the early 90s and currently ranks ninth on the school’s all-time scoring list and second in steals. He served as an assistant coach under Glen Miller before taking over as head coach during the 2009-10 season. In his five-year stint, his teams went just 65-104 overall and 38-46 in the Ivy League with one CBI appearance in 2012. He resigned after the 2014-15 season, making way for current head coach Steve Donahue.

The accusations

Allen has not been charged with a crime, but the Bloomberg report says that Miami business man Phillip Esformes “illicitly gave him more than $74,000 in the form of cash, a recruiting trip to Miami and a separate ride on a private jet in 2013 and 2014.”

According to the report, these payments were to help Esformes son, Morris, get into Penn as a potential basketball player. It appears that Morris is still a student there, though he has never appeared on the Penn basketball roster. Phillip Esformes’ lawyer characterized the relationship between his client and Allen like this, in the report:

“His father hired the coach when Mo was a high school sophomore to help Mo improve his game, as many parents do when their kids show athletic promise.”

Here’s how Bloomberg breaks down the payments and benefits that Allen allegedly received:

  • A $15,000 wire transfer in July 2014 made in the name of a nursing home administrator
  • A $20,000 wire transfer that October
  • An additional $18,000 transfer on Dec. 1
  • A private flight for the player, his father, and Allen from Philadelphia to Miami in March 2015, at a cost of $19,550
  • Lodging and limousine service for Allen in Miami

The response

Allen, understandably, has not commented on the case, but Penn has released a statement about the situation, where the university says it has retained outside counsel to conduct an investigation into the program:

As of this writing, the Boston Celtics have not commented on the investigation and Allen is still listed as part of the coaching staff.

The potential impact

Coming off of an Ivy League championship with a realistic shot at repeating, the investigation could not come at worse time for Penn. The good news is that Allen is not involved with the program and the student involved was never a part of the team. So unless the scandal grows from here on Penn’s side, their wins and accomplishments (however few they may be) during Allen’s tenure should be safe. There won’t be any scholarship reductions either, as the Ivy League does not offer athletic scholarships.

But at minimum, this investigation may cast a dark cloud over Donahue’s team and the Ivy League as a whole. There’s no more pretending that this stuff doesn’t happen at the smaller schools, and if it’s happening in the Ivy League — a conference centered more around academics than athletics — it can happen anywhere. The NCAA has not been brought into this situation yet, but if it is and more is uncovered, then we may start to see a more substantial on-court impact.

Remember: this is a strange time for the NCAA and for its members as the organization tries to reform itself in an effort to clean up the game. Don’t expect much leniency if the scope of this probe widens, but there’s no reason to think that it will just yet.