It opens with a black screen, followed by a quote from late UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian:
“Nine out of 10 schools are cheating. The other one is in last place.”
What transpires during next nearly two hours of the soon-to-be aired HBO documentary, “The Scheme,” certainly makes it sound like LSU basketball coach Will Wade was talking about cheating with convicted felon and wanna-be basketball big shot Christian Dawkins (HBO provided The Advocate a link to preview the film). It doesn’t make things look good for Wade, but it also doesn’t necessarily make things worse for him at this time, either.
These are quotes we read in the series of blockbuster Yahoo! Sports articles from early last year about conversations between Dawkins and Wade (and many others) that were caught on FBI wiretaps. Wiretaps designed to, and that ultimately did, lead to Dawkins’ conviction on several counts (he is currently free on appeal).
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Wade, you could say, is still out on appeal as well. He was suspended by LSU last March for not talking to school officials about a “strong-ass offer” the wiretaps caught him discussing with Dawkins that apparently referred to LSU basketball player Javonte Smart. Wade was reinstated, but only after missing LSU’s last five games, including the Tigers’ run to a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament. His reinstatement carried a new clause in his contract that says the school can fire Wade for cause even if the NCAA issues a notice of allegations of a Level 1 or Level 2 violation, much less finds the program guilty of recruiting violations.
So … a few thoughts come to mind:
This may be the first time Wade can be heard actually saying the things he was quoted as saying in the Yahoo! Sports stories, in all their profanity-laced glory. That adds a level of shock to Wade’s words, like when speaking of Smart he says, “I’ve made deals for as good a players as him that were (bleeping) a lot simpler than this.”
But is there anything new regarding Wade? Not really. And the documentary is not about Wade, nor Arizona coach Sean Miller, who comes off looking as bad or worse than Wade does, especially since his now-fired assistant Book Richardson was involved in all this mess as well. It’s about Dawkins, his twisted attempt to become a basketball power broker and the people who he touched (or slimed) during his rise and well-publicized fall. It’s a tale of greed and corruption that has many facets and parties who don’t come off looking too great — Dawkins, the FBI, Wade, Miller, Rick Pitino, etc. — and how Dawkins came to be in the eye of this much self-created storm. Wade is a supporting player to Dawkins’ leading man role.
But LSU basketball fans don’t care about Dawkins. They care about whether this documentary and what it brings to light makes it more likely that LSU will send Wade, a highly popular coach in his three winning seasons despite his controversies, packing.
That’s difficult to say at this point, made more difficult when you consider how much tougher a coaching search would be for LSU athletic director Scott Woodward to conduct in the midst of this coronavirus pandemic and concurrent sports world shutdown. LSU has made its wary pact with Wade by allowing him to return and coach this just-terminated season under the caveats of his reworked contract. It doesn’t seem to me that just hearing Wade say the words that were previously only seen in print necessarily puts him on any shakier ground with Woodward and LSU.
Woodward, who inherited Wade from LSU’s previous administration under Joe Alleva (who in January told The Advocate he regretted making the hire) has not exactly given enthusiastic support to the coach. It has always appeared to me that Woodward would cut Wade loose if given strong reason to do so.
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This isn’t necessarily that, unless the NCAA, whose investigators have undoubtedly read the Yahoo! Sports stories and heard the wiretaps, decide to level allegations at LSU.
Then, all bets are off. But that has not happened yet. Which certainly makes you wonder if not by now, when.
There are some elements that weigh in Wade’s favor, other than past assertions that he had never “done business” with Dawkins.
There is the fact that Smart, who was held out of LSU’s 2018-19 regular-season finale with Vanderbilt, was reinstated and allowed to play in LSU’s four postseason games last year in the SEC and NCAA tournaments. The Smart family has denied receiving any improper benefits from LSU, and the wiretaps apparently contain no reference to specifics of an “offer.” Former LSU forward Naz Reid, whom Dawkins and Miller can be heard discussing in another wiretapped conversation in the documentary, has also denied receiving improper benefits from LSU.
But the quotes regarding Wade in “The Scheme” are impossible to ignore.
“He doesn’t give a (bleep),” Dawkins says to Miller, regarding LSU’s coach.
I’m sure he will care about this documentary when it gets its televised release. But from where things stand today, not enough to fear losing his job over it.