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Death To The NCAA

Will Wade Just Couldn’t Help Himself

Will Wade
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Nobody is ever surprised when something nutty happens at LSU. It's the state, it's the school, it's the business the school is in ... all of it. Nothing is as it seems, so it's always what it seems.

Thus, Will Wade being fired as the school's basketball coach just as the team is about to place in the upper half of the NCAA Tournament is surprising to exactly zero people who know either Wade's reputation or Baton Rouge's. He was suspended in 2019 for getting caught on wiretap talking about a "strong-ass offer" he made to a recruit and forced to sign a deal that allowed the school to fire him with cause if he got caught again. And he got caught again at lightning speed.

Now, you might have thought that NIL would have taken care of some of this skullduggery, since that's a form of player buying that represents the front edge of a wedge that will at some point lead to the people who generate the money getting their full share of the money they generate. You'd have thought that the FBI's peek behind the curtain might have scared him straighter, if not actually straight.

But Will Wade was an old-schooler. He's accused of paying the fiancee of a player to keep quiet. He claimed he knew nothing of payments to players because his wife handled the family's finances, thus making her monthly household budget a magnificent police procedural script. He initially refused to meet even with school investigators because that's what an old-time fixer does.

And this isn't moralizing we engage in here. This is admiration. Will Wade knew one thing, which is in part how he got the gig to start. He believed in the old ways so much that he did it all in such plain sight that even the tired old NCAA, which doesn't want to investigate anyone for anything any more because its rules suck and its enforcement arm makes its rules look like the Magna Carta, couldn't help but get involved. The eventual investigation, if it can be summed up in a few words, was, "Are you seriously shitting us with this guy?"

Put another way, there is The Athletic's Dana O'Neil:

Do not think the timing of any of this is accidental. A well-placed source told me that there is no doubt the Complex Case Unit released its allegations keenly aware of the impact it would create now. The CCU, as it’s known, operates independently of the NCAA but also works for the NCAA, and no one was terribly interested in seeing Wade in another tourney. The case couldn’t make it to the finish line in time to prevent Wade from coaching in March, but the power behind these allegations could, at least, make LSU think long and hard about keeping him around. Which is exactly what happened. The school received the NOA (Notice of Allegations) last week, saw the permanent ink writing on the wall and decided to let the Tigers get through the SEC tournament and boot Wade as soon as he lost.

That the NCAA didn't ban LSU from its kinda sorta rightful place in the tournament is a rare acknowledgement that the adults bear more responsibility than the players when bribery is the new layup line. Surely some top-level whining by the school to save its tournament money no doubt contributed because after all, this is what LSU has managed to do all too regularly—it installs an ATM on a flatbed truck parked in front of the compliance office windows in the athletic building. It knows you know, and can't wait to trip on its own shoelaces.

Only this time, the school was shamed into shame for maybe the first time ever, and more to the point, inspired the vengeful and gloriously timed thrift of Wade's firing for cause. Nobody sees Will Wade as a freedom fighter or an innocent man wrongly accused, or even a guy who didn't have it all coming. That it happened just a day after LSU lost to Arkansas and a day before LSU will be installed as a likely six-seed in the NCAA Ziggurat Of Money is, well, just funny. Even his parting press conference remark—“I certainly look forward to commenting when it’s all over"—is a moment of pressure-sensitive hilarity that will be topped only by his explanation of innocence: "I have done none of the things I am accused of, and in fact I never worked at LSU at all." If you're going to go, go deep.

It's unlikely that Will Wade's ridiculously repetitive past will dog his future as, say, Art Briles's has, but his next job will either have to come from a school that even LSU finds dirty, or from a school that expects Wade to adapt to the silkier modes of cheating of the future. We're betting he'll fail at that next job because in a world of cash payments, he seems the kind of guy who would always rather write checks and tape them to the players' car windshields, "Because that's how we learned how to do it back in the day."

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