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LSU head coach Will Wade coaches against Texas A&M, Tuesday, February 26, 2019, at LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.

Suspended LSU basketball coach Will Wade wants to be back on the job despite his continued refusal to answer questions about FBI wiretaps that captured him talking to a convicted basketball middleman about recruiting.

Wade publicly asked for his job back in a Thursday morning statement, in which he professed his “love for LSU and everything it stands for” and said he doesn’t “believe it is appropriate for me to be relieved of my duties.”

But LSU officials appeared to quickly close the door on an imminent return for Wade. The university’s general counsel noted Wade hasn’t denied wrongdoing and reiterated that the coach will remain suspended until he addresses the wiretaps in a meeting with LSU.

Wade was suspended indefinitely by the university last Friday after refusing to meet with LSU and NCAA officials in the wake of news stories detailing the contents of his June 2017 phone discussion with Christian Dawkins, during which Wade talked of a "strong-ass offer" for a recruit believed to be current LSU freshman guard Javonte Smart.

The calls were secretly recorded by the FBI as part of a wide-ranging federal investigation into college basketball that resulted in the arrests of several assistant coaches, shoe company executives and others, including Dawkins, a 26-year-old aspiring agent and hustler who was convicted on two corruption counts in October.

"I have been placed on leave because I exercised my right not to submit to a joint LSU/NCAA interview on the exact same subject matter at issue in an impending federal criminal trial in New York," Wade said in the prepared statement Thursday morning. "My legal counsel advised the University that it would be wholly inappropriate for me, or anyone, to submit to an interview under these circumstances."

Wade said later in the statement: "I love LSU and everything it stands for. What I’m asking for is the right to do my job while exercising my constitutional rights. I don’t think that’s too much to ask."

Tom Skinner, LSU's general counsel and vice president for legal affairs, responded Thursday morning in a separate statement.

"Coach Will Wade has yet to deny any wrongdoing to us or publicly," Skinner said. "Absent that, the university is in a very difficult position with regard to compliance with NCAA requirements, and until Coach Wade talks to university administration about this, he remains suspended. There is a standing offer for him and his attorneys to meet with LSU officials."

Wade's attorney wrote LSU officials Tuesday night that the coach would be "happy" to meet with LSU once the federal criminal investigation concludes. The investigation is almost certain to stretch well beyond the NCAA championship game late this month.

Dawkins' attorney is expected to subpoena Wade to testify under oath as a defense witness at a second federal trial currently scheduled to begin April 22 and could last several weeks.

Neither Wade nor his attorney, New York-based Michael McGovern, responded to subsequent requests for comment.

Wade has not disputed the accuracy of his recorded calls with Dawkins, portions of which were quoted in stories by Yahoo Sports and ESPN last week. Nor has Wade, who's issued two written statements since his suspension but hasn't otherwise spoken with the media, denied violating NCAA rules.

But Wade said last week the wiretaps "do not begin to tell the full story" and asked LSU fans and others to "withhold their judgment until the record is complete."

Wade’s public plea to return to the bench came as the No. 9 Tigers (26-5) were in Nashville, Tennessee — the coach’s hometown — preparing for their first game of the Southeastern Conference tournament against Florida on Friday at noon.

Assistant coach Tony Benford is serving as interim head coach during Wade’s suspension.

The university said Wednesday that Wade's offer to wait until after the federal investigation concludes wasn't acceptable and left LSU in an untenable situation.

“That’s not what’s in his contract,” Skinner told The Advocate Wednesday about Wade's offer to speak after the federal investigation concludes. "It's not, 'Hey, I'll meet with you in five years when the feds investigate 50 schools," "It's, 'You meet with us because you're our employee and we've made a request that you meet with us.'"

Athletic director Joe Alleva and Skinner said Wade's refusal to explain the context of his reported comments to Dawkins or deny wrongdoing left questions about potentially serious NCAA violations — such as paying recruits — unanswered.

"He was suspended not because of what was written in the media," Alleva told The Advocate. "He was suspended because he refused to meet with us as an employee-employer relationship to discuss the issue."

Wade's contract with LSU includes a clause requiring him to cooperate "fully in any investigation of possible NCAA or SEC violations conducted or authorized by LSU, the SEC, or the NCAA at any time."

The status of Smart, a standout freshman guard for LSU who averaged 11.5 points per game this season, remains unclear.

LSU benched Smart for its final regular-season game — a blowout home win Saturday over Vanderbilt to claim the outright SEC title, the Tigers' first in a decade — in the wake of the reports.

In the wiretaps, Wade complained to Dawkins about an unnamed handler for the recruit — apparently Smart, then a star at Scotlandville High School in Baton Rouge — who felt the “offer” was “tilted toward taking care of the mom, taking care of the kid.” The handler, Wade told Dawkins, wanted a bigger “piece of the pie in the deal.”

The university and NCAA officials have since interviewed both the player and his mother. Two other individuals close to Smart whom LSU officials believe could be the handler referenced in the calls also agreed to speak to the university, Skinner said.

Two other individuals close to Smart who might be the third party referenced in the call have also agreed to speak to LSU, Skinner told The Advocate, and the university hopes to make a decision on Smart's status before the team's Friday game.

Smart traveled with the team to Nashville for the tournament.

Wade’s recruiting practices also caught the attention of LSU officials and the NCAA last fall when a portion of another wiretapped call between Wade and Dawkins surfaced publicly at the October federal trial for Dawkins and others.

The coach at the time denied any wrongdoing and LSU cleared him to continue coaching.

In that call, the pair discuss a different recruit, Balsa Koprivica, a Serbian 7-foot center who’s currently a high school senior in Florida. Dawkins references an earlier conversation with Wade in Atlanta about Koprivica, a four-star recruit Dawkins says “you would have funded” in the wiretapped call before asking Wade if he’d “want Balsa?”

"I have got to shut the door,” Wade told Dawkins after expressing interest in Koprivica and telling Dawkins "I can get you what you need, but it’s got to work," according to court transcripts reviewed by The Advocate.

Only a portion of the call was read in court and the full wiretaps remain hidden under court orders, leaving it uncertain whether Wade and Dawkins elaborated on precisely who would’ve “funded” the recruit or the meaning of “what you need.”

Alleva said Wednesday that he directly confronted Wade about that wiretapped call when it first emerged publicly. Wade “was very straight-forward with us” and denied any wrongdoing at the time, Alleva said.

Wade told Alleva he knew Dawkins and had spoken with him about potential LSU recruits but “never gave any indication” he might surface on additional wiretaps and emphatically contended he’d “never, ever done business of any kind with Christian Dawkins,” as the coach phrased it to reporters at the time.

The NCAA joined LSU’s interview with Wade at the time and LSU compliance officials and an outside law firm also looked into the wiretapped discussion of Koprivica, Skinner told The Advocate Wednesday.

“But there was limited follow-up because it was limited information and limited individuals involved,” Skinner said, noting that Koprivica — a current high school senior who’s committed to play at Florida State — never ended up at LSU.

The judge ruled the call with LSU’s Wade was too far removed from the focus of the trial — which zeroed in on payoffs to relatives of recruits at Louisville, NC State and Kansas — so further details about its contents and other possible wiretaps involving Wade weren’t discussed in court.

Paying college basketball players, recruits or their families is forbidden under NCAA rules. But such payments don’t directly violate federal law.

Instead, federal prosecutors allege Dawkins and others committed fraud by conspiring to funnel cash to players’ relatives and hiding the payments from universities, allowing the players to receive scholarships the payoffs made them eligible for and exposing universities to potential NCAA sanctions.

Dawkins’ attorney has indicated he plans to subpoena Wade and Arizona coach Sean Miller — whose program has been implicated in the FBI probe — as witnesses in April. The defense has argued Dawkins and his co-defendants didn’t defraud the universities because coaches and administrators knew about the payments and profited from the sport.

The wiretaps reported last week discussing “this Smart thing” — in which Wade also joked about compensating more than the “rookie minimum” — “contained much greater detail, appeared to refer to a player currently at LSU and gave us much more to go on,” Skinner said.

The exact nature of the “strong-ass offer” Wade made wasn’t made clear in the call. Portions of the wiretaps were quoted by Yahoo Sports and ESPN in stories last week but the full wiretaps remain hidden from the public under orders from federal judges in the case.

Alleva and Skinner said their response showed LSU officials are exerting “institutional control” over the university’s athletic programs. The phrase is used by the NCAA to describe institutions making reasonable efforts to prevent rule breaking and investigate allegations of potential wrongdoing.

The NCAA generally levels its most serious penalties on athletic programs found to “lack of institutional control,” a charge that can also open universities up to wide-ranging, multi-sport investigations.

“The actions we took once we received additional information … are designed to demonstrate that we have institutional control. As soon as we got further information, we called coach Wade in for a meeting,” Skinner told The Advocate on Wednesday. “As soon as coach Wade said he wouldn’t come in for a meeting and we couldn’t get additional facts, there were enough questions out there that we felt we had to suspend him — again, all in pursuit of integrity and institutional control.”

Advocate sports writer Sheldon Mickles contributed to this report from Nashville.

Wade's full statement from Thursday morning:

"This morning, I advised President Alexander, Athletic Director Joe Alleva and the LSU Board of Supervisors that I would like to resume my duties as Head Basketball Coach. Last week, when the University decided to place me on administrative leave, I accepted the decision without complaint as I knew that they wanted time to reflect on the flurry of media reports. With the benefit of a week to consider the circumstances, I believe University officials should allow me to resume my duties.

"I understand that in today’s hyper-intense media environment it is extremely difficult for any organization, particularly a public university, to stand firm in the face of rumors, leaks and innuendo. In this case, the simple truth is I have been placed on leave because I exercised my right not to submit to a joint LSU/NCAA interview on the exact same subject matter at issue in an impending federal criminal trial in New York. My legal counsel advised the University that it would be wholly inappropriate for me, or anyone, to submit to an interview under these circumstances.

"Declining to be interviewed was a difficult decision for me, as I would like to cooperate fully with all parties, particularly LSU. To be clear, however, all I’ve done is follow the prudent advice of counsel to exercise my constitutional rights to due process. Given these facts, I don’t believe it is appropriate for me to be relieved of my duties. We have a great basketball program made up of excellent student athletes and quality coaches. The players who’ve given their all for this institution, the students and alumni who are devoted to LSU, and fans all across Louisiana and beyond deserve to see this team fulfill its destiny. I love LSU and everything it stands for. What I’m asking for is the right to do my job while exercising my constitutional rights. I don’t think that’s too much to ask."



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Despite calls from critics including longtime analyst Dick Vitale and USA Today columnist Dan Wolken that LSU should skip postseason play, school officials have not entertained the notion. 

LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said Wednesday that he didn't think the controversy should affect the Tigers' NCAA seeding. 

“The rules in how they do business, it should not,” he said. “However, let’s remember everyone in that room is a human, and subconsciously, they might take that into consideration. But they’re supposed to go by the facts of how the team has performed throughout the year."

LSU is currently projected to be as high as a No. 2 seed, with an outside chance to crack into a No. 1 slot if they win the SEC tournament.


Follow Bryn Stole on Twitter, @BrynStole.