LSU may pay steep price for bringing back Will Wade
LSU made the wrong call for the second time.
Will Wade has been very successful in two seasons in Baton Rouge. He’s 43-20 since taking over the Tigers’ head coaching job in 2017, including LSU’s first regular season conference championship since 2009 this past season.
He brought national attention back to the hardwood, for the first time since Ben Simmons passed the the PMAC on his way to the NBA, with his intensity and the gritty play of his team.
He also brought national attention to LSU for some really bad reasons.
When news first broke in 2018 of Will Wade’s possible involvement with Christian Dawkins, a target of an FBI investigation into illegal payments in collegiate athletics, he made no statement. Not to the public, not to his boss, athletic director Joe Alleva.
The Tigers competed, rising all the way into the top 10, before transcripts of wiretapped conversations between Wade and Dawkins were made public.
Once again, Wade was silent publicly and privately.
Even after Javonte Smart, the player who was allegedly the target of an illicit cash offer by Wade, was cleared to compete, Wade remained silent.
Alleva asked Wade to meet with him and make a statement and his coach, even though contractually obligated to do so, chose not to speak with his boss.
So, Alleva suspended him. His job is to protect the university as a whole. Or at least that was his job. Alleva has been forced out at LSU after over a decade in the position.
As for what remains, allowing Wade to continue to coach could have exposed LSU to more than just a slap on the wrist.
Wade showed his hubris again when he publicly demanded that he be reinstated as coach, still without answering to Alleva.
“The bottom line is Coach Wade put us in this situation,” LSU attorney Thomas Skinner said at the time.
And he was right.
Wade had the power to fix the situation from the outset and instead he chose to keep everyone, most importantly his employer, at bay. And yet Wade is still at LSU while his former boss is out the door.
We can discuss the corrupt nature of college sports all we want to. The NCAA and its member institutions, by and large, perpetuate a fraud that exploits student athletes and their families.
Sure, LSU fans can look right over at John Calipari at Kentucky or Bruce Pearl at Auburn as coaches who’ve achieved great success with allegations constantly swirling around them.
And yes, it’s hard to give up the joy of watching your team win. No one wants to see the Tigers’ basketball program brought to its knees just as soon as it seemed to be back on its feet.
But remember what Thomas Skinner said.
In reinstating Wade, LSU didn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement of its once and current head coach, which makes the reinstatement even more puzzling.
No matter what, LSU basketball is a damaged product. Five Tiger underclassmen are exploring their NBA options, and among them only Naz Reid seems like a lock to be selected in what is considered a very weak draft class.
Kavell Bigby-Williams, probably the most NBA-ready of LSU’s players, exhausted his eligibility as well.
Now Will Wade will have to go out and recruit in a world where the spotlight will shine much more brightly on every word he says, every call he makes, every kid he signs.
Will parents and advisors to these young men be comfortable in dealing with Wade now, knowing that the NCAA may very well investigate later on?
What will the university do if Wade is required to testify in federal court? What happens if an NCAA inquiry shows wrongdoing on behalf of Wade and punishments are worsened because of LSU’s failure to act earlier on?
While the federal government has asked that the NCAA hold off on any actions prior to the conclusion of their case, more schools and coaches may be named, expanding the scope and extending the case for who knows how long.
It would have been best for all parties if LSU and Will Wade had made a clean break of it. Situations like this rarely have happy endings.
Instead, the charade goes on. Will Wade will pretend he’s sorry. LSU will pretend this never happened. And the rest of the sporting world will pretend that it cared.
LSU paid what it perceives to be the cost of success by bringing Wade back.
Whether there are any hidden fees down the line remains to be seen.
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David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…