LSU gutlessly terminates men’s basketball coach Will Wade
The glass doors serving as my elementary school’s partition between chaos and order violently swung ajar as children spilled into the playground.
My classmates stormed the fields and basketball courts with their usual enthusiasm, but I aimlessly ambled behind the crowd.
I didn’t see the point of lining up in front of the same self-appointed team captains to watch them select every other kid to play the sport of choice for the day.
Then, I saw it.
A leftover basketball was lying at the bottom of the ball rack. It wasn’t a ball in the best condition, but it was a basketball nonetheless.
I found a secluded hoop on the schoolyard and began to put up shots with the determination to one day be good enough to be selected in a pickup game.
That was when the class bully sauntered up to me like I owed him something.
“Give me the ball,” he demanded. I ignored him, but the situation escalated rapidly.
He grabbed me by the collar and hoisted me off of the ground. “Give me the ball,” he repeated, but this time I replied.
“I’m playing with the ball right now, but I’ll let you know when I’m finished with it.”
Like any second-grader, he lacked the sophistication to respond to my defiance, and in all fairness to him, I lacked the ability to respond to further escalation. The big oaf placed me back on the ground and walked out into the fields to eat wildflowers and chase bumblebees for the remainder of recess.
On March 9, 2022, the NCAA lifted LSU athletic director Scott Woodward by the proverbial collar and demanded that he give them the ball when they released their official Notice of Allegations against the school’s men’s basketball and football programs.
On March 12, 2022, a day before the basketball tournament selection show, Woodward obliged and fired men’s basketball coach Will Wade, the man at the center of seven of the 11 violations outlined in the aforementioned NOA, for cause
For some LSU fans, Saturday’s decision felt like an inevitability. Wade and the LSU men’s basketball program have been under harsh scrutiny from the NCAA since 2017 when Yahoo! Sports released the transcripts of Wade speaking about recruiting improprieties on a federal wiretap.
Since then, members of the national media like Pat Forde and Dick Vitale have chosen to blast Wade and the Tigers at every corner.
However, this column isn’t about the clowns in the national media. I have no concern for people who prostitute themselves for internet clicks as they turn blind eyes to the rumors and innuendos surrounding other blue blood programs.
Kentucky’s John Calipari, Syracuse’s Jim Boehim, and Auburn’s Bruce Pearl are a few coaches to name that have had far from squeaky clean coaching careers, and the first two have vacated wins and final four appearances. These coaches are often worshipped by the same national media that have spent the last few years calling for Wade’s head.
This column also isn’t about the corrupt NCAA whose incompetence at fairly wielding its wanning influence is evident when coaches like Texas A&M football’s Jimbo Fisher admits on live television that, “there’s always been NIL, it just wasn’t legal,” in reference to the Name Image and Likeness legislation that was passed across the country to allow players to receive some compensation for their play.
Any rational collegiate sports fan could have told you that players have always gotten paid, a fact that the rest of the world has now admitted is fair after institutions spent years reaping in billions of dollars of revenue on the backs of unpaid student labor.
No, this column is about LSU’s Woodward and university president William F. Tate IV who thought it was a capital idea to fire Wade the day before the basketball team discovers their NCAA Tournament seeding.
This column is to the administrator who had the gall to release a statement about said decision claiming that the university’s goal was to “protect and promote the integrity and well-being of our entire institution and our student-athletes.”
It’s not entirely clear to me that the administration was looking out for the student-athletes on the basketball team when they decide to remove the metaphorical rudder from the team’s vessel days before tournament play begins and cast the ultimate distraction on the program by firing the coach.
The “integrity of the institution” portion of the university’s statement is also a laugh.
They admit that they stood by Wade for more than four years, but they left out the part where they did so to undoubtedly reap the benefits of Wade’s winning teams at the ticket gate only to drop him when the NCAA came knocking.
That doesn’t really scream integrity to me.
They go on to say that their termination of Wade is “not an acknowledgement of agreement with any of the allegations” which really makes me wonder what an agreement with the NCAA’s allegations would look like.
Woodward and Tate’s decision to fire Wade was not about the men on this year’s basketball team, and it was certainly not about the integrity of the university. Woodward would have fired Wade on day one if integrity or reputation was at play.
To put it plainly, this was a decision to terminate a coach for cause and save face to the NCAA. Woodward and Tate are hoping that if they give the NCAA Wade, the university will avoid harsher penalties.
Appeasement is not a tenable strategy to deal with bullies though. If you give the bully what he wants, he may be back tomorrow demanding the ball again.
Ask the University of Missouri’s football program and Oklahoma State’s basketball program how well appeasement went for them when they faced violations. The NCAA still levied harsh penalties on both despite their cooperation.
On the off chance that appeasing the bully works out for LSU, Woodward and the LSU administration will have to live with the fact that they traded their dignity and loyalty in exchange for the NCAA’s absolution for the rest of their careers. When strength was needed, LSU’s administrators provided weakness.
Let me be clear. I do not doubt that the NCAA will eventually show evidence for LSU to terminate Wade. I do believe that Wade skirted rules that only the naïve believe the other successful coaches follow.
However, based on the statement Woodward and Tate released on Saturday, Wade should remain the coach until the NCAA presents evidence to back their allegations. It’s only fair to the players on this year’s roster and the fans who have supported these Tigers from the beginning.
LSU has once again shown its threshold for loyalty though. Themes like “standing up to bullies” and “innocent until proven guilty” are fairy tales we tell children but do not apply in the real world.
These themes are merely pieces of fiction that reside on a bookshelf alongside the apparent fantasy titled “Forever LSU.”