LSU men's basketball coach fired after NCAA alleged violations

Louisiana State abruptly fired men’s basketball coach Will Wade on Saturday, less than a week after the school received a Notice of Alle...


Louisiana State abruptly fired men’s basketball coach Will Wade on Saturday, less than a week after the school received a Notice of Allegation from the NCAA charging Wade with five major rule violations, including including cash payments and job offers to help attract a recruit to the school.

Wade and his associate head coach, Bill Armstrong, were fired a day after the Tigers lost to Arkansas in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament. An assistant coach, Kevin Nickelberry, will coach the team, which is 22-11 overall, in the NCAA Tournament, the pairings of which will be announced on Sunday.

Wade had been under surveillance for approximately three years, since Yahoo reported in 2019 that federal agents recorded Wade in a bugged call discussing making “a solid offer” to Javonte Smart, a decorated high school student from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Wade was suspended for Tigers postseason games in 2019 for his refusal to cooperate with LSU officials, but was reinstated a month later after meeting with administrators and agreeing to a contract amendment that would allow the school to terminate him with cause if he has been found guilty of committing Level I or Level II offenses, the most serious offenses.

The Notice of Allegations also states that Wade obstructed the investigation by refusing to turn over thousands of records and that in three interviews with investigators he knowingly provided false or misleading information.

The NCAA report says Wade denied providing recruiting inducements or acting unethically.

Wade said at the SEC tournament that he couldn’t comment on the NCAA allegations. “I certainly look forward to commenting when this is all over, but until then they won’t allow us to comment,” he said.

The taped call was part of a federal investigation which, when they announced indictments in 2017, said prosecutors would expose the shady world of college basketball recruiting.

In the end, it was mostly assistant coaches and low-level associates who paid the price in the criminal justice system. Assistant coaches from Southern California, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Arizona have been convicted of a bribery scheme, as have two shoe company associates and an aspirant agent. Other schools that were studied included Kansas, Louisville, and North Carolina State.

Wade is the first head coach to be fired following a direct NCAA charge in the scheme. Rick Pitino was ousted almost immediately to Louisville, where accusations that he approved payments to a rookie – which Pitino denied – were the latest in a series of embarrassing indiscretions there. And Sean Miller was fired at Arizona last year with one year remaining on his contract amid declining team performance and an NCAA investigation.

In announcing Wade’s dismissal, university president William F. Tate IV and athletic director Scott Woodward noted that the university and the men’s basketball program “have operated under an exhausting veil of negativity”.

Their statement also indicates that the decision to fire Wade and Armstrong is not an acknowledgment of agreement with any of the allegations, to which the school is responding.

However, this is only the latest scandal at the school.

An investigation, encouraged by report by USA Todaydiscovered last year that LSU athletic department administrators covered up sexual assault complaints against a former running back and fought to remain silent over allegations of sexual harassment against a former coach, Les Miles. Two administrators who did not follow up on complaints of assault were sanctioned, but not dismissed.

Recent NCAA men’s basketball charges also include allegations that a recall paid a former football player’s father $180,000 for bogus labor, and that former LSU star Odell Beckham Jr. ., reportedly provided around $2,000 in cash to the players after they won the 2020 national championship game.

The allegations against Wade and Armstrong are more extensive and systematic. They understand:

  • Wade pays money to stop a gambler’s ex-fiancée from talking about illegal payments.

  • Armstrong offers to provide a rookie’s family or associates with $300,000 cash (in $50,000 installments) as well as provide a job, apartment, and car for the player’s cousin.

  • Wade directs payments from a bank account in his wife’s name to a recruiter who, in exchange, would refer a prospect to LSU

Smart played three seasons for LSU, leaving a year ago to enter the NBA Draft. He was not drafted but last month signed a two-way contract with the Miami Heat.

Wade, 39, coached at LSU for five seasons after previous stints at Chattanooga and Virginia Commonwealth. His best team was in 2019, when LSU finished 28-7 and won the SEC Regular Season Championship with four players going on to play in the NBA.

But those Tigers ended their season in the NCAA Tournament without their head coach, just like this year’s team will have to.

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