SportsPulse: We are just over a week away from Selection Sunday and for these teams a tournament berth is anything but guaranteed.
When the NCAA tournament begins in two weeks, LSU will be one of roughly a dozen teams for whom the Final Four will seem within reach. The Tigers, who have made just one tournament appearance in the last nine seasons, could even be a No. 1 seed.
But after an explosive report Thursday by Yahoo! Sports, which obtained transcripts of a wiretapped phone conversation between coach Will Wade and black market deal-maker Christian Dawkins, LSU’s mere presence in the tournament is a mockery. It’s an embarrassment for the school, for the Southeastern Conference and for an NCAA justice system that is relying on the FBI to do its dirty work and still can’t take meaningful action in time to save the tournament from such obvious taint.
And if anyone at LSU or the SEC actually had the sense to acknowledge what was right in front of them, they wouldn’t allow it to happen.
If LSU was headed for the NIT rather than an SEC regular-season title with a win Saturday, there is little doubt the school would spend this afternoon in self-preservation mode, announcing a self-imposed postseason ban and a suspension for Wade, who has now been caught on a pair of phone calls with Dawkins alluding to transactions he would be willing to engage in that would likely violate NCAA rules.
Instead, they will almost certainly deflect and deny questions about anything but basketball, hoping to glide through the next few weeks knowing full well their program has likely lodged itself on a ticking time bomb of NCAA penalties.
Because Wade is a winning coach who made LSU relevant for the first time since John Brady’s Final Four run 2006, it will probably take two years for the school to actually fire him. It should take two hours.
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Just look at Wade’s own words as reported by Yahoo!, which were captured by the FBI during a conversation with Dawkins in the summer of 2017:
“Dude, I went to him with a (expletive) strong-ass offer about a month ago. (Expletive) strong,” Wade said, seemingly venting to Dawkins about a third party who was involved in the recruitment of current LSU freshman Javonte Smart.
“The problem was, I know why he didn’t take it now, it was (expletive) tilted toward the family a little bit. It was tilted toward taking care of the mom, taking care of the kid. Like it was tilted towards that. Now I know for a fact he didn’t explain everything to the mom. I know now, he didn’t get enough of the piece of the pie in the deal.”
This follows another tape, played last fall during Dawkins’ trial on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in which Wade told Dawkins he had to shut his office door before discussing another recruit, Balsa Koprivica, who committed to Florida State rather than LSU.
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“I can get you what you need, but it’s got to work,” Wade said.
These comments, of course, are not ironclad proof that Wade made financial deals with middlemen in exchange for players’ commitments to LSU. There is no known paper trail, and as LSU fans will comb those comments for slivers of plausible deniability that they can pin to their purple-and-gold clothing as they cheer the Tigers perhaps all the way to the Final Four.
But even without all the specifics, Wade’s conversation with Dawkins is damning. Because when discussing a top-50 recruit with an underling for a sports agent, what kind of “strong-ass offer” that was “tilted toward taking care of the mom, taking care of the kid” but didn’t leave “enough of the piece of the pie” for a third party would fall within the NCAA rulebook?
Hey, maybe Wade was talking about actual pie. But let’s get real here.
As the various revelations of the FBI’s evidence against Dawkins and Adidas executives Merl Code and Jim Gatto have made their way into the public sphere, there’s been this theory that college basketball coaches will frequently have these casual conversations with middlemen and say whatever they need to say to make someone like Dawkins, who might have influence with players, feel important.
But even in the most generous interpretation of this latest transcript, which would be Wade just venting about a recruitment, he’s not making promise he doesn’t intend to keep. He’s recalling a past-tense offer — sorry, a “hell of a (explative) offer” — that was rejected much to Wade’s frustration. Sorry, but unless that offer was for a scholarship, Wade has a major problem that will be difficult to explain away when he’s subpoenaed in Dawkins’ second trial next Month.
Though there’s been plenty of smoke surrounding various college coaches as a result of their interactions with Dawkins, Gatto and Code, this is by far the most damning piece of evidence yet related to a coach’s culpability in NCAA violations.
Remember, the NCAA is not a court of law. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not required to end careers or slap significant sanctions on a program. And schools that know there’s a big problem on their hands are way better off getting rid of it as fast as they can rather than doubling down on the notion that the rest of us are stupid.
Even if you don’t like NCAA rules, even if you think amateurism is stupid, it is impossible to see LSU playing in this tournament as anything but a farce. Without the minor complication of having a chance to get to the Final Four, this would obviously be the time to take their medicine, sit out the NCAA tournament and get a head start on paying for the investigative carnage that is coming their way.
Instead, they’re going to try and thump their chest all the way to the Final Four — even if it eventually gets stripped from the record books. After all, we’re going to remember that it happened, right?
That’s the risk-reward theory that has allowed cheating program after cheating program to celebrate at the NCAA’s expense, and this time will probably be no different. It’s simply a matter of how much shame you’re willing to set aside. If LSU plays in this NCAA tournament, it will be the ultimate admission that theirs is all gone.