To use a basketball term, it looks like Will Wade is down four points with 2 seconds left and the NCAA is in possession of the ball.
The LSU men’s basketball coach appears to be in deep trouble after records surfaced this week that the NCAA has information Wade offered impermissible payments to 11 recruits and/or their associates.
Or is he?
He could always swipe the ball, hit a leaping, leaning Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf-style 3-pointer, draw the foul, nail the free throw and force overtime.
Wade is pretty good at forcing overtime.
The NCAA has been chasing him for what is closing in on two years, since September 2018. You could build a basketball gym in that time.
The question, of course, is whether the NCAA has built a compelling case.
The NCAA's enforcement staff said it received information that LSU men's basketball coach Will Wade arranged for, offered or provided impermis…
College sports’ governing body is clearly showing its patience with Wade is at an end, requesting in a recent letter his case be turned over to the new Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP). It sounds like a frustrated parent throwing up his or her hands and shipping a troubled teen off to boarding school.
The IARP committee will decide whether to invoke Dick Vitale’s three favorite words when it comes to Wade — Notice of Allegations — and send such a notice to LSU. If that happens, it could trigger a new amendment to Wade’s contract, which he signed in April 2019 after all his NCAA issues. The amendment says LSU could then fire Wade with cause.
If Wade is nervous, he continues to un-show it. He kept his appointment to speak Wednesday morning on WNXX-FM, 104.5, when he talked among other things about blocking out the noise.
“I tell our guys the bigger the game, the narrower the focus,” Wade said. “The more things are going on around you, the more you have to narrow the focus. Focus on what the most important things are: our team and our players. Focus on the things we and I can control.”
Control certainly appears to be the Wade watchword in all this. Yes, he changed attorneys (the ones who gave him the bad advice not to talk to LSU in March 2019, resulting in his postseason suspension); his new attorney has been treated and had surgery for cancer; and there are 60,000 cell phone records of his the NCAA has wanted to comb through.
The NCAA complains that it took 13 months to get all those records, that Wade missed several deadlines to turn them over, and they when the NCAA finally got them, they were a jumbled mess.
In that sense, the NCAA may have shown it has a weak disciplinary hand. Hard line in the sand, enforcement folks? It looks blurred and kicked over, time and again. Wade could be flagged for lack of cooperation, but frankly, this all contributes to the impression that NCAA enforcement is capricious and uneven at best.
Meanwhile, SI.com added to the mix Wednesday afternoon by reporting an excerpt of a letter from Wade’s attorney to the NCAA in response to the allegations. Basically, it’s like the scene in “The Untouchables” when Robert DeNiro’s Al Capone tells Kevin Costner’s Elliott Ness, “You got nothing!”
“While it appears the NCAA is frustrated that its long investigation has failed to yield any evidence of a violation,” the letter reads, “we cannot sit by as the NCAA tries to lay responsibility for that failure at Coach Wade’s feet; it is simply not fair to paint Coach Wade as uncooperative as this case presumably enters the IARP process.”
The question remains: What will LSU do if the Notice of Allegations shows up in its inbox? Will it cut Will Wade loose or stand by him? Athletic director Scott Woodward inherited Wade from his predecessor, Joe Alleva, who said in a January interview he regretted hiring Wade.
Woodward has been much more neutral on Wade, basically saying he is LSU’s coach until he is not. Woodward is aware of Wade’s popularity with the LSU rank-and-file fans, popularity on their part well earned.
In three seasons, he has led LSU to 67 wins, a Southeastern Conference championship, two postseason appearances (the Tigers would have made a third if this year’s NCAA tournament had not been canceled), and has put together a talented team for 2020-21 that with a little craftiness and skill would not be a surprise to see in the Final Four (if it is played).
While it seems Wade has for years coached at LSU on borrowed time, he could borrow some more. This case could drag on for months more, if not another year.
Meanwhile, the NCAA has appeared to try to pressure LSU by threatening to tie three football issues — John Paul Funes funneling embezzled Our Lady of the Lake Foundation funds to a player's father; Odell Beckham Jr. handing out cash to players after the CFP title game; and Ed Orgeron making impermissible contact with a recruit — to get LSU to put extra pressure on Wade.
The investigation involving LSU men's basketball coach Will Wade's alleged bribery of recruits may conclude within an independent group design…
The Beckham brouhaha has basically been settled, and Coach O was pulled off the recruiting road for 30 days, so those appear to be non-issues. The NCAA, in my view, has a long way to go to prove lack of institutional control by tying the Wade and Funes matters together.
Maybe LSU will try to turn down the heat by firing Wade. But the NCAA, Vitale and the rest of us underestimate Wade at their peril.
He’s still on the job, after all. Trying to control the things he can control.