Indefinitely suspended LSU basketball coach Will Wade on Thursday invoked his constitutional rights in saying that he wants to resume coaching the team without meeting with school officials before the end of an ongoing federal investigation in the Southern District of New York concerning corruption in college basketball.
However, Wade’s contract includes language that requires him to speak with the university about the matter or risk being fired for cause – a circumstance that could result in him losing more than $10 million in pay and bonuses.
In a statement released to multiple media outlets Thursday, Wade said he believes the university should allow him to resume his duties and explained that he is not willing to be interviewed by LSU officials at this time on the advice of his attorney, Michael G. McGovern.
“I love LSU and everything it stands for,” Wade said in part of the statement. “What I’m asking for is the right to do my job while exercising my constitutional rights. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
But his contract lists a set of duties and responsibilities, one of which is: “Cooperating fully in any investigation of possible NCAA or SEC violations conducted or authorized by LSU, the SEC, or the NCAA at any time.”
In response to an inquiry from the USA TODAY Network, LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard wrote that Wade’s “contract provisions require him to cooperate under these circumstances and he has not thus far.”
This sets up a difficult situation for university officials as the Tigers (26-5) go into the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday as the league’s outright regular-season champion and the No. 9-ranked team in the nation.
While school officials are not eager for a contractual showdown with Wade, the school’s general counsel, Thomas Skinner, said via Ballard: “It is not unlawful or illegal for Wade to talk to us at all. He has the right not to incriminate himself in a criminal proceeding (the so-called Fifth Amendment privilege), but he does not have the right not to meet with his employer.”
This basically means the university is following the procedures in Wade’s contract that are required for it to have the option of firing him for cause. The agreement says the school can fire Wade for cause for “unreasonably refusing or repeatedly failing to perform any duties … after written notice to coach of LSU’s reasonable expectation.”
Wade also can be fired for cause for “knowingly committing material or repeated significant violations of any provision of this agreement,” provided that those initial violations are not resolved within 10 days of Wade being notified of the violations.
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Wade is working under a contract that is scheduled to pay him $2.5 million annually through June 30, 2023.
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Wade, who was hired at LSU two years ago this month, is in the process of being subpoenaed to testify in the second federal trial resulting from an investigation into college basketball corruption. The trial begins April 22 — 14 days after the conclusion of the 2018-19 college basketball season. And the investigation is expected to continue after that trial.
LSU will play at noon Friday under interim coach Tony Benford. The NCAA Tournament starts March 21.
If Wade and his attorney wait until the federal probe ends, Benford could be hired as LSU’s permanent coach or LSU could try to hire another coach under the cloud of the FBI probe and a likely NCAA investigation into Wade’s recruiting.
LSU president F. King Alexander and athletic director Joe Alleva indefinitely suspended Wade on March 8 after a Yahoo Sports story on March 7 that detailed Wade’s comments from June of 2017 on FBI tape about making an “offer” and a “deal” for Javonte Smart, one of the top recruits in the nation at the time at Scotlandville High near Baton Rouge who later signed with LSU.
Before Wade’s suspension, Alleva and Alexander had asked Wade to come to a meeting March 8 to discuss the story and the federal investigation with them along with other LSU officials, LSU’s NCAA compliance department and NCAA personnel. But Wade refused on advice of McGovern.
Contributing: Tom Schad of USA TODAY Sports