Unsealed by the courts today, the Department of Justice indicted a dozen coaches and athletic administrators involved in a nation-wide college admissions bribery scheme. With “elite” schools and pseudo-celebrities’ names being tossed around the news reports, one of the alleged conspirators named in the indictment was Gordon “Gordie” Ernst, the head coach of Georgetown’s Men’s and Women’s Tennis teams from 2006 - 2017.
Many Georgetown alumni and sports fans are duly worried about the implications of the national admissions scandal as well as the potential for repercussions. However, many schools, such as Yale, UCLA, and Texas appear to be considering themselves potential victims of fraud and are working with authorities.
Georgetown may have actually discovered abnormalities in admissions as Meghan Dubyak, a spokesperson from Georgetown, stated earlier today:
Georgetown University is deeply disappointed to learn that former Tennis Coach, Gordon Ernst, is alleged to have committed criminal acts against the University that constitute an unprecedented breach of trust. Mr. Ernst has not coached our tennis team since Dec. 2017, following an internal investigation that found he had violated University rules concerning admissions. Georgetown cooperated fully with the government’s investigation. We are reviewing the details of the indictment and will take appropriate action.
The bribery scheme appears to have falsely used a limited number of reserved admissions spots for “Olympic sports” recruiting with a coach claiming that a non-athlete applicant is a talented athlete and deserving of admissions. The coach would receive payment from a non-profit for cooperating and the applicants’ parents would make a “donation” to the non-profit to receive a tax write-off.
This plan apparently worked well for Ernst as he is alleged to have been “paid a total of more than $2.7 million in bribes between 2012 and 2018 to ‘a Georgetown tennis coach’ in order to designate about 12 applicants as Georgetown tennis recruits, ‘thereby facilitating their admission to the university.’” Georgetown’s role in the scam appears to limited to an over-trusting victim who, at worst, might have overlooked properly following up with team rosters and/or athletic careers over the 5-year span.
That said, there was another flavor of fraud via standardized testing, though it does not appear Georgetown was involved. The U.S. Attorney’s office stated that “[t]here were essentially two kinds of fraud” in this system: “one was to cheat on the SAT or ACT, and the other was to use [William “Rick” Singer’s] connections with Division I coaches and use bribes to get these parents kids into school with fake athletic credentials.”
The indictment illustrates with one example of Ernst’s fraud:
86. For example, on or about August 19, 2015, at Singer’s instruction, Georgetown Applicant 1 forwarded to ERNST an email Singer had drafted on his behalf. The email contained falsified information concerning Georgetown Applicant 1’s purported tennis abilities. In fact, Georgetown Applicant 1 did not play competitive tennis.
87. ERNST forwarded the email to a Georgetown admissions officer.
88. On or about August 21, 2015, ERNST wrote to the same admissions officer to ”confirm my usage of three spots” ERNST had been allocated for student admissions to Georgetown, as part of the tennis recruitment process.
89. ERNST allocated all three spots to the children of Singer’s clients, including Georgetown Applicant 1, despite the fact that none of them played competitive tennis.
90. On or about April 22, 2016, MASERA sent an email to the parents of Georgetown Applicant 1 attaching an invoice in the amount of $400,000 for their purported “private contribution” to KWF.
91. On or about April 28, 2016, the parents of Georgetown Applicant 1 caused $400,000 to be sent to one of the KWF charitable accounts.
92. Between approximately September 11, 2015 and August 29, 2016, ERNST received checks totaling $700,000 from one of the KWF charitable accounts.
In October 2015, a few months after the alleged fraud by Ernst, the 10-year tennis coach lamented to The Georgetown Voice about the lack of outdoor tennis courts from the construction of the Thompson Center. Ernst said, “You’d have to be a complete nitwit not to come to this campus and see this very little space, where facilities are beginning to age and people want to build new things,” and that the missing courts have “a tremendous impact on the program and the teams.”
In an article covering his June 2015 induction into the New England Tennis Hall of Fame, the Providence Journal noted that Ernst was “the personal instructor for First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters, Malia and Sasha.” During the 1990s, the Brown graduate worked for Lehman Brothers prior to coaching at Penn and was actually drafted in the 10th round of the NHL draft to play for the Minnesota North Stars out of high school. The Journal article details how he got into his coaching career:
Ernst was fresh off a four-year professional career when he decided to put the degree he earned at Brown University to use, working on Wall Street for a brief period and selling insurance at one point. It was an opportunity to serve as an assistant coach at Northwestern that brought Ernst back to the court, and his three years as the head coach at the University of Pennsylvania from 1998-2000 had him officially hooked again.
“That’s when I realized I could put this together and make a good career out of it doing something I loved to do,” Ernst said. “You’re having that proverbial positive effect on a young kid’s life.”
Ernst was hired by the Hoyas in 2006 and soon found himself with some professional connections to the White House — circumstances, he said, that likely wouldn’t have come about had he chosen to try his hand at professional hockey. Ernst was a Minnesota North Stars draft pick as a Cranston East senior in 1985 but opted to continue playing both sports with the Bears for the next four years. Tennis was already something he saw as a potential lifetime option.
“Long term, you can do this more,” Ernst said. “It can do more for you.”
Who knows how long Ernst actually gamed the collegiate system. Ernst appears to have duped many people, but nothing is meant to take away from the student-athletes who did compete on Georgetown’s Men’s and Women’s Tennis Teams while Ernst coached. When Ernst was hired by the University of Rhode Island last year, the press release called him a “local legend” for his former high school tennis and hockey prowess, and noted some of the accomplishments of those GU athletes he coached:
During his 12 seasons at Georgetown, Ernst coached 35 All-Big East honorees and more than a dozen Academic All-Americans. One of his recruits, Victoire Saperstein, became the first Georgetown female to earn All-Big East honors in four consecutive seasons, and in 2017-18 she received Georgetown’s Duffy Award as the school’s top overall student-athlete. Ernst also coached Newburyport, Mass. native Kelly Comolli, who was the 2014 Big East Woman of the Year, the first Georgetown tennis player ever to receive the honor.
Again, it appears that Georgetown—and the student-athletes who were qualified for admission—are victims in this fraud by Rick Singer and Gordie Ernst, an Ivy-league-trained tennis professional who was likely even vetted by the Secret Service. Perhaps even the high level of achievements that some of the tennis student-athletes reached obscured the absences of applicants relying on the admissions fraud.
Georgetown appears to have deleted at least one article on Ernst (Google cached).
Worth noting that Gordie Ernst, the tennis coach accused of taking multiple six-figure cash bribes to admit fake recruits, resigned without explanation from Georgetown last summer. Now he's coaching at Rhode Island. https://t.co/KlcDHvrU4U— Jack Dickey (@jackdickey) March 12, 2019
Ernst was “scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.”