LSU Fires Wade Too Late, Shoots Itself in the Paw
On March 12, LSU announced the long-overdue firing of head basketball coach Will Wade and assistant Bill Armstrong after receiving a notice of allegations (NOA) from the NCAA during the week. The NOA includes allegations for both the school's football and basketball programs, some infractions taking place over four years ago.
I was bothered by the statement from LSU's president William Tate and athletic director Scott Woodward and their seemingly upright rationale on the firing. More specifically, the section of the statement which refers to FBI and NCAA investigations as a "taxing and already-lengthy process."
The problem is that the president and AD were collectively tired of a long and drawn-out investigation clouding multiple programs, but not so tired that they couldn't wait for the findings to see if they actually had to fire Will Wade.
If the firing was "to protect and promote the integrity and well-being of our entire institution," why wait four years after the evidence was presented to the school to do so? The decisions coming out of LSU only continue to show us that its athletic department is much less virtuous than its press releases make it out to be.
Among other violations, Wade took part in a pay-for-play scandal uncovered in 2017, an operation which has left two of his counterparts in the endeavor, sports agent Christian Dawkins and LSU booster John Paul Funes, in federal prison. Wade's infamous "strong ass offer," comment caught on FBI wiretap in 2019 led to a self-imposed post-season ban for the LSU basketball program and the university's eventual parting with athletic director Joe Alleva (2008-2019).
Setting aside the allegations on Wade, possibly LSU's largest problem to come out of the NOA is the NCAA's use of the phrase "lack of institutional control." This is the same verbiage used by the NCAA in the University of Miami's Nevin Shapiro scandal as well as the investigation into USC over the payment of then-prospect Reggie Bush - both cases leaving the respective athletic departments in turmoil for the time being.
While large, sweeping institutional change-sized punishments rarely get passed down by the NCAA, they do exist for a reason. LSU's issue spans multiple sports and athletic directors. – If that isn't an indication of an institution out of control of following common athletic rules, then I'm not sure what is.
I also found the timing of Wade's firing and LSU's positioning odd at best. It feels like the school offered Wade as a sacrifice, one made just days before the NCAA tournament in which LSU is a No. 6 seed. The university is bracing for heafty sanctions to its football and basketball programs and embracing investigation may be the best course of action. However, knowing LSU kept Wade after the university was informed of the extent of his violations is likely going to weigh heavily on the NCAA's mind when considering the school's institutional control of its own athletic department.
At the minimum, LSU's handling of the incident dating back to 2017 uncovers a culture in Baton Rouge willing to buy success and deal with the consequences, whatever they may be, at a different time.
LSU is obviously in a tricky situation, even as it waits for its punishments, as the firing has already resulted in a four-star recruit decommitting from the basketball program. The school and AD Scott Woodward now face the task of hiring a fourth DI head coach in a calender year and with heavy impending sanctions, LSU basketball isn't exactly a major destination for coaching or recruiting at the moment.
The Tigers will be under the direction of interim coach Kevin Nickelberry for the run in March Madness, starting with a matchup against No. 11 Iowa State on March 18.
Wade was 105-51 throughout his five-year tenure in Baton Rouge, bringing the Tigers to three NCAA tournament appearances and winning the 2019 SEC regular season title.