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LSU fans everywhere owe Dick Vitale an apology.
For years now, Vitale – the voice of college basketball on ESPN since the 1980s – has been saying the NCAA was going to hammer LSU basketball coach Will Wade for multiple major violations. And for years now, many – not all – LSU fans have hammered Vitale, including some of the LSU fans in the media.
Vitale was right all along. Because he knew all along. Vitale is as connected as anyone in college basketball. How fitting was it that on Saturday at the SEC Tournament near his home in Tampa, Florida, that Vitale, who has taken time off because of cancer, was honored by the SEC for his contributions to the game and for his fight against cancer. On the same day, LSU fired Wade for basically being a liar and a cheater.
LSU fans and some media members also ripped Pat Forde, Pete Thamel and Dan Wetzel for their Yahoo.com story on March 7, 2019, about Wade’s “strong-ass offer” to top recruit Javonte Smart in 2017 on FBI wiretap. That was the beginning of the end of Wade. They were right all along. They deserve apologies, too.
The “strong-ass offer” is all over the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations (NOA) that LSU released to the media on Saturday, as required by state law, after LSU fired Will Wade for what’s in that NOA.
LSU fans called the litany of stories about Wade’s questionable recruiting practices stretching back as far as 2018 “fake news,” which is often a synonym for news that is too true for comfort. And LSU fans have strangely tried to make Wade out to be a hero ever since he was suspended on March 8, 2019, for not cooperating when the NCAA and LSU wanted to ask him about that Yahoo.com story.
Remember that ridiculous LSU-Vanderbilt game on March 9, 2019, that turned into a Will Wade rally? Then LSU-athletic director Joe Alleva helped make the right decision then to suspend Wade, and he was booed like a losing football coach at Tiger Stadium at that basketball game. It was so bad, he had to leave. Alleva deserves an apology, too, but not that big of one. He did hire Will Wade after ignoring a tip about his questionable recruiting at Virginia Commonwealth.
LSU could have and should have fired Wade three years ago when he chose not to cooperate with LSU or the NCAA.
Finally, on Saturday LSU got smart and fired him after fully digesting the voluminous NOA it just received from the NCAA on Wade’s recruiting style.
The NCAA is using a sledgehammer on Wade as it has handed down not one or two alleged major violations, but five Level I violations directly involving Wade and one directly involving assistant coach Bill Armstrong, whom Wade oversaw. Level I violations are the most serious.
The violations number 11 in all with eight of the Level I variety, including one involving football alone and one involving both football and basketball – the dreaded “lack of institutional control” major violation. They are all still considered alleged until the NCAA hearing on LSU that will happen over the next several months to a year.
LSU will have no appeal process at its disposal after the hearing because the NCAA in 2020 handed its LSU investigation to what is basically its SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team. The NCAA’s Complex Case Unit of the Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP) handles serious cases that involve major violations. So, it allegedly looks really bad for LSU.
The alleged violations include Wade paying “cash” to recruits, Wade paying outside parties to recruit players and Wade sending money to a former player’s former fiancee “to keep quiet about Wade’s payments to student-athletes,” according to the NOA.
Wade even “directed that payments be made to (recruits’ name redacted) from a bank account in the name of Wade’s spouse that Wade and his spouse treated as a joint account,” the NOA says.
The notice also says Wade obstructed the NCAA’s investigation by “concealing evidence” and lying to NCAA officials as recently as last November in interviews. The notice charges Wade with “unethical conduct” and says his “cheating” was “planned, schemed and purposeful.”
Interesting word – scheme. “The Scheme” was the name of an HBO documentary in 2020 about Wade’s recruiting practices in which he talks about paying players in vivid detail.
“Wade’s conduct was deliberate and committed after substantial planning,” the NOA says. “Specifically, Wade offered inducements to secure prospective student-athlete’s (name redacted) commitment to LSU and prospective student-athlete’s (name redacted) commitment to LSU and paid (name redacted) for his services as an unauthorized recruiter for prospective student-athlete (name redacted).”
My goodness, that’s almost a starting five of redacted players.
Armstrong, who was Wade’s assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, was also fired Saturday. Armstrong, who has been under Wade since Wade got to LSU in 2017, offered to pay a recruit and/or his family and associates $300,000 to come to LSU, among other benefits, the NOA says. Armstrong “provided impermissible recruiting inducements in the form of cash payments, a job offer, lodging, impermissible academic assistance and assistance securing visas to then men’s basketball prospective student-athlete (redacted),” the NOA says.
In general, the NOA said of the LSU basketball program that, “Persons of authority condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the violations or related wrongful conduct.”
Allegation No. 11 is the one that LSU’s athletic department feared the worst. It is the Level I violation that is the most damning for future sanctions and because it has football in the crosshairs with basketball.
“The institution (LSU) failed to exercise institutional control and monitor its football and men’s basketball programs,” the NOA says.
The NOA’s specific Level I violation by the football program involves a booster payment to the family of former LSU offensive lineman Vadal Alexander, who played from 2012-15 under former coach Les Miles. It also involved the cash payments by former LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to players on the field at the Superdome after LSU beat Clemson for the national title on Jan. 13, 2020.
LSU already self-imposed penalties in football as it gave itself a bowl ban in the 2020 season and self-reported Beckham’s actions and other violations. Beckham meant his money drop in full view of cameras as a sarcastic joke.
But the NCAA is not laughing. Lack of institutional control usually means major sanctions, penalties and probation in varying degrees for several years. And what’s really bad for LSU is how long this goes back – 2012 – and forward – 2020. This means that LSU kept on breaking rules for a year or more after it was under NCAA investigation or knew it was about to be.
“It is alleged that from February 2012 to June 2020, the scope and nature of the violations set forth in the allegations (particularly the first seven Level I violations listed) demonstrate that the institution failed to exercise institutional control and monitor the conduct and administration of its football and men’s basketball programs.”
Interestingly, LSU’s present athletic director Scott Woodward is not as absolved from all this as originally thought. He got here in 2019.
LSU is in major trouble, folks, and there’s nothing fake about it.