Sidelines with John Clay

After bombshell report, LSU had no choice but to sit Will Wade

Update: Wade has released a statement with regard to his suspension.

Given the Yahoo Sports report on Thursday, it was no surprise Friday when LSU announced that it has indefinitely suspended head basketball coach Will Wade.

Yahoo reported that an FBI wiretap intercepted a phone call between Wade and middleman Christian Dawkins in which Wade discussed a “strong-ass offer” he made for Louisiana prep star Javonte Smart, now a freshman with the Tigers.

In a second phone call, reported by ESPN, Wade referred to compensation above “the rookie minimum” with regard to Smart, apparently referring to the NBA pay scale.

Talking to the media after speaking at a luncheon in Baton Rouge on Thursday, Wade said he had not yet read the report. He has not commented since. After saying it had no comment, LSU announced Friday that it was placing wade under indefinite suspension.

“Recent media reports regarding Coach Will Wade are without question concerning to all of us,” said the school in a statement. “As such, we and university officials have taken deliberate and purposeful steps to fairly assess and adequately address this situation. As we have done since media reports first surfaced 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, 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. Assistant coach Tony Benford will assume the duties of interim head coach.”

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey released a statement backing LSU’s action.

“I support the action of LSU in its suspension of head men’s basketball coach Will Wade. The information in recent news reports is very disturbing, if true. Considering the existing circumstances, LSU has taken appropriate action today while the investigation continues. The SEC serves in an advisory role with our institutions in NCAA compliance issues and the Conference Office will continue to assist LSU as it moves forward in this matter.”

Though there were no specifics mentioned to the “offer” in the wiretap, the phone conversations are incriminating for Wade, who last October claimed he had never done business with Dawkins, who was sentenced to six months in jail after being found guilty of wire fraud and conspiracy charges for being involved in payments to families of recruits.

And though there are reports that Wade and Arizona Coach Sean Miller will be subpoenaed with regard to the FBI’s investigation, Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated reported Thursday that LSU officials were caught off guard by the Yahoo report.

“School officials were somewhat blindsided by the Yahoo! report, multiple sources say,” reported Dellenger. “University leaders spoke to Wade about the matter earlier this year following initial reports linking him to the FBI probe, and he assured them that what had already been made public represented the full extent of his involvement. If officials determine that Wade did not fully disclose information about an NCAA violation or committed a violation, the school can fire him for cause and owe him nothing, according to a copy of his contract obtained by SI.”

The Wade suspension is a kick in the teeth to what has been a breakout basketball season for LSU. At 25-5 overall and 15-2 in the SEC, the 10th-ranked Tigers can clinch the No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tournament with a win over Vanderbilt at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Saturday night.

But after Thursday’s bombshells, the school had no choice but to sit its head coach. Wade’s presence in Nashville next week would have turned the SEC Tournament into a media circus.

Next question: How will LSU play without its head coach?

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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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