After waiting more than a month to address reported FBI wiretaps with LSU and NCAA officials, Will Wade denied any wrongdoing and found himself back at the helm of LSU’s men’s basketball program Sunday.
But his return from a suspension that sidelined him for the regular-season finale and the Tigers’ NCAA tournament run to the Sweet 16 doesn't pull Wade clear from the college basketball corruption scandal and federal criminal investigation.
A federal judge in New York is still weighing whether Wade will be forced to testify at an upcoming federal criminal trial against two men — aspiring sports agent Christian Dawkins and Adidas consultant Merl Code Jr. — accused of funneling bribes to assistant coaches and cash to families of recruits.
The NCAA is also investigating Wade’s wiretapped comments and recruiting tactics, a probe without a clear public timeline that could also leave a cloud hanging over the program.
Leaked portions of Wade’s discussions of recruiting in phone calls with Dawkins — secretly recorded by the FBI — are what landed Wade in hot water in the first place after Yahoo! Sports and ESPN reported on March 7 that Wade talked about a “strong-ass offer” for a recruit believed to be current LSU guard Javonte Smart.
You have two ways to regard LSU’s reinstatement of Will Wade on Sunday night as its men’s basketball coach.
Dawkins’ defense attorney has reportedly subpoenaed Wade — along with Arizona coach Sean Miller, whose program has been caught up in the scandal — to testify at the trial, which is scheduled to begin in just over a week.
Wade complained to Dawkins on the wiretapped call about trouble closing the deal for Smart, griping that a middleman apparently wanted a bigger “piece of the pie” from the offer which, Wade said, was “tilted” toward the recruit and his mother.
Wade denied breaking NCAA rules or committing crimes in his meeting Friday with LSU officials. He’d previously said only that the reported wiretaps “do not begin to tell the full story.”
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LSU athletic director Joe Alleva’s statement on Wade’s return from suspension struck a tentative note, didn’t offer a full-throated backing of the coach and appeared to hedge against further twists in the saga.
“Coach Wade's explanations and clarifications offered during the meeting, absent actual evidence of misconduct, satisfy his contractual obligation to LSU,” Alleva said in a press release announcing the decision.
Federal district Judge Edgardo Ramos will decide in the coming days or weeks whether Wade will have to take the witness stand in Dawkins and Code’s criminal trial.
Prosecutors have asked Ramos to strictly limit the evidence in the case — which, if granted, would likely preclude Wade and Miller from testifying — arguing “the defendants should not be able to use this trial as a referendum on the merits of the NCAA’s rules or the state of college basketball”.
Federal prosecutors contend Dawkins and Code made the payments to steer players toward endorsement deals with Adidas and contracts with Dawkins' fledgling sports management business once they reached the NBA.
Their trial, scheduled to begin April 22, focuses on alleged bribes handed out to a handful of assistant coaches, several of whom have pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges in recent months.
In a response filed Friday, attorneys for Dawkins and Code argued “evidence that Mr. Dawkins cultivated and maintained relationships with head coaches (coaches that have significantly more influence than the assistant coaches the Government alleges that he paid bribes to), and that he did not pay for their influence, directly contradicts his specific intent to pay college coaches in exchange for influence over athletes.”
The full context of the call wasn’t revealed in the Yahoo! Sports and ESPN reports. Other wiretapped calls between Dawkins and Wade exist as well.
Will Wade was reinstated as the LSU men's basketball coach on Sunday night, ending a 37-day suspension.
Additional details about the calls could emerge at trial if Wade takes the stand and the second-year LSU would likely be pressed about his recruiting tactics and relationship with Dawkins.
Dawkins, a 26-year-old basketball hustler who worked for a top NBA agent, and Code, a former Clemson star who ran elite youth basketball programs for Nike and Adidas, were both convicted of federal fraud and conspiracy charges at an earlier trial in October for funneling payoffs to relatives of recruits to Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina State.
At the October trial, another federal judge, Lewis A. Kaplan, repeatedly rejected defense requests to introduce evidence of corrupt payoffs elsewhere, including an FBI wiretap of Wade and Dawkins discussing another potential recruit, 7-foot Serbian center Balsa Koprivica, who's currently committed to play at Florida State.
Attorneys for Dawkins and Code argue the men played only a small role in widespread corruption in NCAA basketball, fueled by the hundreds of millions of dollars swirling around a sport played by unpaid amateurs, many from modest families.
Coaches and university administrators, the defense attorneys have argued, were aware of payoffs to players and routinely — if tacitly — approved of them, a contention that potentially undermines the federal criminal case against Dawkins and Code.
The NCAA is also investigating Wade’s wiretapped comments and participated in Wade’s meeting on Friday with LSU officials. It’s unclear how far along that investigation is or how long it might take.
The FBI denied a request from LSU for copies of the wiretaps or other evidence involving Wade and has reportedly turned down similar requests from universities and the NCAA.
It’s unclear if federal authorities would turn over evidence that doesn’t come out at trial to NCAA investigators. But doing so would be highly unusual for the agency.
After a suspension lasting more than a month, LSU basketball coach Will Wade has been reinstated.
Federal prosecutors asked the NCAA to hold off on disciplining any basketball coaches or college programs until its investigation into college basketball corruption — which was publicly announced with a series of arrests in September 2017 — fully concludes.
It’s unclear how much longer the federal investigation could drag on beyond the upcoming trial.
Besides Wade and LSU, at least 24 other college programs have been linked in some way to the scandal. Additional schools could be named during Dawkins and Code’s trial.