LSU announced Friday that basketball coach Will Wade has been indefinitely suspended, one day after a Yahoo Sports report detailed a 2017 call intercepted on an FBI wiretap in which Wade freely discussed a “strong-ass offer” he made to a middleman for a recruit.
In what was termed a joint statement from LSU president F. King Alexander and athletic director Joe Alleva, the school said, “All of us at LSU share the obligation to protect the integrity of this institution, as such we have suspended Head Coach Will Wade indefinitely until such time as we can ensure full compliance with the NCAA, as well as institutional policies and standards. Assistant coach Tony Benford will assume the duties of interim head coach.”
LSU (25-5 overall, 15-2 in the Southeastern Conference) will play Vanderbilt on Saturday with a chance to clinch its first SEC title since 2006. With a victory, the Tigers would be the No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament next week and are positioned for a high seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
While Wade likely is facing no legal jeopardy over his comments on the wiretap, the repercussions are potentially significant in terms of NCAA allegations and sanctions.
The FBI wiretap of aspiring agent Christian Dawkins was part of the federal probe into corruption in college basketball. Dawkins was convicted last fall on conspiracy charges and was sentenced to six months in prison earlier this week, with another trial looming in April. Wade and Arizona coach Sean Miller have been apprised of forthcoming subpoenas to testify at the upcoming trial.
Dawkins is known to be on FBI wiretaps during the late spring and summer of 2017. ESPN, citing court records, previously reported that Dawkins had “at least three calls with a cellphone number belonging to LSU coach Will Wade, each of which occurred between June 19, 2017, and June 30, 2017.”
In the call which Yahoo Sports reported Thursday, Wade expressed frustration that a third party affiliated with the recruitment had yet to accept Wade’s “offer.” Instead, a verbal commitment to LSU was being delayed because Wade theorized he hadn’t given the third party a big “enough piece of the pie in the deal” and instead “tilted” the offer toward the player and his mother.
“I was thinking last night on this Smart thing,” Wade said. “I’ll be honest with you, I’m [expletive] tired of dealing with the thing. Like I’m just [expletive] sick of dealing with the [expletive]. Like, this should not be that [expletive] complicated.”
There is no elaboration on what the “Smart thing” is. Javonte Smart is currently a freshman guard at LSU and formerly a top-50 recruit from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Smart committed to the Tigers on June 30, 2017.
“Dude,” Wade continued to Dawkins, referring to the third party involved in the recruitment, “I went to him with a [expletive] strong-ass offer about a month ago. [Expletive] strong.
“The problem was, I know why he didn’t take it now, it was [expletive] tilted toward the family a little bit,” Wade continued. “It was tilted toward taking care of the mom, taking care of the kid. Like it was tilted towards that. Now I know for a fact he didn’t explain everything to the mom. I know now, he didn’t get enough of the piece of the pie in the deal.”
Dawkins responded by saying, “Hmmmm.”
“It was a [expletive] hell of a [expletive] offer,” Wade continued. “Hell of an offer.”
“OK,” Dawkins said.
“Especially for a kid who is going to be a two- or three-year kid,” Wade said.
Smart, a guard who is averaging 11.4 points a game for LSU this season, was not considered a one-and-done NBA prospect when he committed to the Tigers.
The tape does not reference any specifics about the “offer,” if the particulars of the “offer” violated NCAA rules, if the player and/or his mother ever knew of the “offer”, or if anyone accepted whatever the “offer” was.
It does not appear from this part of the call that Dawkins had any knowledge of what Wade is describing.
Dawkins declined comment Thursday through his attorney, Steve Haney. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva also declined comment Thursday to Yahoo Sports. Calls and text messages to Wade and Melinda Smart, mother of Javonte Smart, were not returned.
The tape does suggest the FBI possesses additional evidence and phone conversations that could be entered into evidence in the second trial, which is slated to begin April 22 in New York.
The Yahoo Sports report Thursday was not the first time LSU was made aware of a wiretap involving Wade and Dawkins discussing recruiting a player. A call between Dawkins and Wade also emerged during the first trial. The two were discussing 2019 recruit Balsa Koprivica, who eventually committed to Florida State.
“So you said to me … there was a 2019 kid I wanted to recruit, they can get him to LSU, you would have funded,” Dawkins said to Wade. “Would you want Balsa?”
“Oh, the big kid?” Wade said.
Dawkins confirmed he was talking about the 7-foot-1 Koprivica.
“OK, but there is other [expletive] involved in it,” Wade said. “I have got to shut my door…”
After a brief delay, Wade said, “I can get you what you need, but it’s got to work.”
At the trial, Casey Donnelly, former Adidas executive James Gatto‘s defense attorney, said the inference was about “money.” On June 21, 2017, during the timeframe of the calls, Koprivica announced on Twitter he had received a scholarship offer from LSU.
The contents of the Yahoo Story about Wade on Thursday wasn’t greeted with much shock around an industry where a refined black market to sell players to schools has thrived for decades.
Former La Salle coach John Giannini, who is director of the center for sports communication and social impact at Rowan University (N.J.), paraphrased Condoleezza Rice by noting in the Rice Commission report that every major stakeholder was aware of the issues that the sport is facing.
“Everyone was aware of these things and has been for years,” he said. “The only shock to anything is that there’s wiretaps and undercover agents involved. I just have no surprise to anything that’s happened. My opinion is not in the minority.”
The rest of the college basketball world reacted with a similar shoulder shrug. LSU’s decision was summed up by one prominent Division I athletic director this way: “They can only look away for so long.”
There wasn’t some deep-rooted sense of disbelief or outrage from the wiretap revelations in the coaching ranks either.
“I don’t think people are surprised, I don’t think coaches are surprised,” a prominent Division I coach familiar with Wade said. “That’s his reputation.”
Jim Livengood, the former athletic director at UNLV, Arizona and Washington State, viewed LSU’s decision from afar as one made so they could maintain the perception of institutional control.
“I think the prudent thing is to do whatever you can to protect your institution,” he said in a phone interview. “From past indications from the NCAA, that will help. The worst-case scenario is always about institutional control. The fact you have your arms around it, are aware of it and are doing something about it always appears to be helpful.”
Atlanta-based attorney Stu Brown, who has represented numerous coaches and universities in NCAA compliance cases, said schools need to tread carefully in disciplining coaches implicated in the scandal.
“I just hope all the involved schools and the NCAA as an organization perform substantive and meaningful due diligence on their own before they take any kind of employment action against a coach,” Brown said. “Once you take employment action against a coach, you can’t unring that bell. I hope and presume LSU has done that.”
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