A recent report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) suggests Louisiana State University (LSU) head coach Will Wade discussed impermissible student-athlete benefits during the recruiting process.
Wade, who has been suspended by the university for the duration of the investigation, had led his LSU Tigers team to its best season in decades – a regular season conference championship and #1 overall seed in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) tournament. With the FBI’s revelation, though, his coaching success may soon be forgotten.
The report, stemming from FBI wiretaps in mid-2017, features numerous conversations between Wade and basketball middleman Christian Dawkins. Dawkins, an individual in the middle of a corruption controversy of his own with Adidas, is known by many to attempt to bend National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules.
“I was thinking last night on this Smart thing,” the head coach said in an intercepted phone call with Dawkins. “I’ll be honest with you. I’m [expletive] tired of dealing with this thing. I’m just sick of dealing with the [expletive]. This should not be that complicated.”
It is widely assumed the “Smart thing” Wade refers to in his comments is LSU freshman Javonte Smart. A freshman guard for the Tigers, Smart grew up just miles away from the university and stood as a top-50 recruit in the nation.
The wiretaps, all of which involved a “cellphone number belonging to LSU coach Will Wade,” occurred between June 19, 2017 and June 30, 2017. Fittingly, Smart announced his official commitment to become an LSU Tiger on June 30, 2017.
Taking these frustrations at face value, the FBI’s allegations assume Wade attempted to monetarily bribe Smart’s family to solidify his enrollment at the university. While there is no clarity as to whether he actually provided the aforementioned “offer,” even the possibility of a recruiting violation could be enough to tarnish his head coaching career.
“The problem was, I know why he didn’t take it [the offer] now. It was tilted toward the family a little bit,” said Wade in a later intercepted phone call. “It was tilted toward taking care of the mom, taking care of the kid. 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.”
With the delicate nature of the allegations, the university acted swiftly in removing Wade from his position. While still technically on staff, he is suspended for the foreseeable future.
“Recent media reports regarding coach Will Wade are without question concerning to all of us,” said LSU president, F. King Alexander, and the institution’s athletic director, Joe Alleva, in a joint statement. “As such, we and university officials have taken deliberate and purposeful steps to fairly assess and adequately address this situation. They [the NCAA] have our full cooperation and we will continue to report to them all facts and information on this matter.”
While the NCAA itself is in the midst of its own investigation into Wade’s recruiting techniques, LSU has also joined the cause to clear the air via an internal probe. While preparing for the conference tournament in Nashville, Tenn., SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey took a moment to voice support for LSU’s decision to suspend Wade.
“I support the action of LSU in its suspension of head men’s basketball coach Will Wade. The information in recent news reports is very disturbing, if true,” said Sankey. “Considering the existing circumstances, LSU has taken appropriate action while the investigation continues.”
Despite his push to avoid the public spotlight, Wade has reportedly fought to return to the sidelines in his regular coaching capacity. After declining all institutional and NCAA interviews, he has made it clear he feels he has been wronged.
“My legal counsel advised [LSU] that it would be wholly inappropriate for me, or anyone, to submit to an interview under these circumstances,” said a statement from Wade’s camp. “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.”
Even with his calls for immediate reinstatement, Wade and his Tigers seem to be on standby until the NCAA’s joint investigation with the FBI comes to a close. It may be difficult to confirm if the LSU coach did in fact provide impermissible benefits to Smart or any other student athletes, but the wiretaps certainly appear damaging to Wade’s long-term coaching career.