BATON ROUGE — Indefinitely suspended LSU basketball coach Will Wade wants to resume his job, but not if it means putting him at legal risk.
In a statement released to multiple media outlets Thursday, Wade said he believes the university should allow him to resume his duties as coach and explained that he is not willing to be interviewed by LSU officials at this time on the advice of legal counsel.
“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.”
Wade’s statement comes on the heels of a letter that his attorney, Michael G. McGovern, wrote to LSU officials earlier this week, explaining that he would meet with the school “upon the conclusion of the pending Southern District of New York criminal investigation.”
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The criminal investigation McGovern referred to is the ongoing federal probe into college basketball corruption that began in 2015 and is expected to go on for months and possibly years. He possibly may have been referring to “the conclusion” of the upcoming, second federal trial resulting from the investigation of college basketball corruption that begins on April 22. But that is not what McGovern’s statement said, and he did not return a call Wednesday.
Wade, who was hired at LSU two years ago this month, is in the process of being subpoenaed to testify in that trial. The 2018-19 college basketball season ends on April 8. And the investigation is expected to continue after that trial.
No. 9 LSU (26-5 overall, 16-2 Southeastern Conference champions) will play at noon Friday in the SEC Tournament under interim coach Tony Benford. The NCAA Tournament starts on March 21.
If Wade and McGovern 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.
“Coach Wade is aware that his status will stay as indefinitely suspended until he is ready to talk to LSU officials,” LSU senior associate athletic director Robert Munson told the USA Today Network Wednesday. “The timing of this is up to Will at this point. The door is open.”
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. Alleva replaced Wade with Benford on March 8. Then on March 9, LSU suspended, or “held” Smart from play in the Tigers’ regular season finale Saturday against Vanderbilt.
Smart’s status remains up in the air for Friday’s game in the SEC Tournament as LSU conducts its own investigation of Wade and Smart.
A a decision by LSU on Smart could come as early as Thursday.
Before Wade’s suspension, Alleva and Alexander had asked Wade to come to a meeting on 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.
“It’s the first step,” Munson said.
But not a guarantee that Wade would be reinstated if he does go to such a meeting in the future.
“Then officials can determine the next course of action,” Munson said.
While discussing the possibility of a meeting last week, McGovern asked for a “limited scope” in the questioning, but LSU refused that.
Attorney Robert W. Barton of the Taylor Porter firm in Baton Rouge is representing LSU along with LSU attorney Thomas Skinner with regard to Wade and McGovern.
“Your communication today directed to Dr. Alexander, Mr. Alleva and the members of the LSU Board of Supervisors misrepresents the substance of our discussion on Sunday,” Barton said in response to McGovern’s letter in a letter also received by the USA Today Network from Skinner.
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Barton’s point was that McGovern had not previously brought up the criminal investigation of college basketball corruption in a previous discussion on Sunday.
Alleva and Skinner told the Baton Rouge Advocate that Wade’s refusal to discuss the taped conversations in the latest Yahoo Sports story “left LSU with no option but to suspend” Wade.
“The bottom line is Coach Wade put us in this situation,” Skinner said.
Contributing: Tom Schad of USA TODAY Sports