On the eve of the LSU basketball program achieving its finest accomplishment in a decade, the powers residing over the university, and I use the word “powers” loosely, have wilted under scrutiny from the outside.
In a joint statement issued early Friday afternoon, LSU President F. King Alexander and Athletic Director Joe Alleva suspended head basketball coach Will Wade indefinitely saying the following:
“Recent media reports regarding Coach Will Wade are without question concerning to all of us. As such, we and university officials have taken deliberate and purposeful steps to fairly asses and adequately address this situation. As we have done since media reports first surface months ago, we are closely coordinating with the NCAA with every step. They have our full cooperation and we will continue to report to them all facts and information on this matter.
All of us at LSU share the obligation to protect the integrity of this institution, and as such we have suspended Head Coach Will Wade indefinitely until such time as we can ensure full compliance with the NCAA, as well as institutional policies and standards.”
That Alleva, F. King Alexander, and the Board of Supervisors caved to the likes of Dan Wolken, Pat Forde and Dick Vitale isn’t surprising given LSU’s recent history. This is the same university that was going to fire Les Miles after the Texas A&M game in November 2015, changed their mind at halftime, extended his deal, only to fire him the following year.
The supposed people in charge of LSU have shown incompetence internally be it with wanting Jimbo Fisher to take over the football program from Miles, or going after Tom Herman to be the new man after Ed Orgeron’s interim stint. The people in charge looked like complete dopes in how they handed the Florida situation with Hurricane Matthew.
But now perhaps worst of all, the people in charge of LSU athletics look weak.
Under intense finger wagging scrutiny from Dick Vitale of all people, LSU caved and suspended Wade. The optics are certainly bad, yes. You never want your head coach on an FBI wiretap discussing a “strong-ass offer” with a convicted middle-man about what is presumed to be freshman guard Javonte Smart.
Yes Wade is on that wiretap. And Wade is also on record discussing a potential payment to Florida State freshman Balsa Koprivica. But the burden of proof is on the NCAA to find that an impermissible offer was made to Smart and that Smart accepted said offer. By suspending Wade, LSU is essentially throwing their hands up, saying “you got us!” and told on themselves.
Neither Wade nor LSU has been found guilty of anything, and that makes suspending Wade now of all days, on the eve of a potential conference championship, even more confusing. What’s changed since the wiretap came out yesterday? What has Alleva and Alexander learned that’s so dramatically different that they had to tell Wade to go away?
If Wade and/or Smart are guilty of anything, then whole season will be vacated so it makes no sense to do this now. Either suspend Wade and keep Smart off the floor before the season starts or ride this thing out and let the NCAA take away the wins later on. Suspending Wade the night before regular season game No. 31, three days before the SEC tournament begins does nothing except make LSU look even more incompetent than they already are- and that’s not an easy thing to do.
And what if Wade isn’t guilty of anything? What if after Wade takes the stand, the NCAA isn’t able pin him for any wrongdoing, and the leadership who didn’t have the guts to stand behind their guy in his most trying time has to welcome him back? The NCAA isn’t investigating LSU basketball; Will Wade is not on trial. Wade hasn’t even taken the stand yet, but Alleva and Alexander don’t have the stones to wait this out until more information became public.
Stand by your guy. Or don’t and tell him to get out of Baton Rouge back in October when the transcript was read in court. But don’t choose a half-measure, suspend him 30 games into the season and hope the NCAA goes easy on you if and when sanctions are handed down.
The fallout of this isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. Unless there’s some big revelation coming from the Feds, Wade isn’t likely going to incriminate himself on the stand. The NCAA may never get anymore than what they currently have. Meanwhile, the well is poisoned for Wade here — he can’t come back and work for an administration that looks at him this way. And that stink will almost certainly affect any search for his replacement.
If LSU gets hammered by NCAA sanctions in the coming months or years, at least make the run before incriminating yourself. Go beat the brakes off an 0-17 Vanderbilt team tomorrow night to claim your first SEC championship in a decade in front of your home crowd; go win the conference tournament in Nashville next Sunday; hell go all the way and cut down the nets in Minneapolis April 8. And if some wrongdoing took place, THEN let the incompetent NCAA try and nail you. But don’t get cold feet the night before the biggest day for basketball in the past decade and admit to something you haven’t even been accused of.
LSU just wrapped up a perfect 9-0 road record in conference play. Wade said “our guys enjoy that ‘us against the world’ when it’s just 30 of us against 10-12 thousand of the other folks.” By throwing Wade under the bus, you can add Joe Alleva and F. King Alexander to the 10-12 thousand.
They say you can take away the wins but you can never take away the memories. Whenever the season ends, this LSU team will undoubtedly be remembered fondly as the group that made basketball relevant in Baton Rouge again.
The people in charge of LSU, however, will be remembered as weak, incompetent cowards.