LSU fired Will Wade for cause after major NCAA violations. Here’s why. | USL

LSU fired men’s basketball coach Will Wade and associate head coach Bill Armstrong for cause Saturday, four days after the university received a detailed, 17-page notice of allegations from the NCAA’s Complex Case Unit of the Independent Accountability Resolution Process.

According to the notice of allegations obtained by The Advocate on Saturday through a public records request, there were 11 violations outlined — seven of which solely relevant to men’s basketball. Wade is tied to six of the seven allegations within the men’s basketball program and five of those are Level I infractions. Armstrong is accused of one Level I violation and one Level II violation.

Additionally, LSU basketball shares fault with football in an additional Level I allegation that LSU “failed to exercise institutional control and monitor the conduct and administration of its football and men’s basketball programs” from February 2012 through June 2020.

Both Wade and Armstrong could receive show-cause penalties for their conduct in the violations, as outlined in the NOA. A show-cause penalty is the harshest penalty a coach can receive from the NCAA, effectively barring them from coaching for a duration of time.

LSU President William F. Tate IV and athletic director Scott Woodward released a statement Saturday, writing that “Our decision to terminate Coach Wade and Coach Armstrong is not an acknowledgment of agreement with any of the allegations.”

Tate and Woodward added in the statement that after they received the NOA earlier this week, those involved in the decision making process took several days to pore over the details outlined in the NOA to determine their next steps.

“We can no longer subject our university, department of athletics, and — most importantly — our student-athletes, to this taxing and already-lengthy process without taking action,” they wrote. “Our responsibility to protect and promote the integrity and well-being of our entire institution and our student-athletes will always be paramount.”

Multiple attempts to reach Wade were unsuccessful. In interviews with the NCAA’s CCU, Wade denied all the allegations.

Wade and Armstrong were fired after the LSU basketball team landed in Baton Rouge shortly after 12:30 pm The coaches had an in-person meeting with Woodward and Tate, per source.

LSU lost Friday in the SEC tournament in Arkansas, but the Tigers are a supposed lock to make the NCAA tournament with their 22-11 record. LSU will still compete if selected.

Assistant coach Kevin Nickelberry will assume the duties of interim coach for the postseason, just like former assistant Tony Benford did when Wade was suspended for 37 days in 2018-19.

Wade was suspended at the tail end of the 2018-19 season after Yahoo Sports detailed a wiretapped conversation between him and now-convicted middle man Christian Dawkins. The conversation recorded by the FBI included Wade openly speaking about a “strong-ass offer” he made in the recruitment of former LSU guard and Baton Rouge native Javonte Smart in 2017.

This specific allegation is outlined in the NOA as the first of the seven charges against the basketball team, and was determined to be a Level I violation. In the charge, the CCU wrote in this instance Wade “violated the principles of ethical conduct and/or offered impermissible recruiting inducements in the form of cash payments and job offers in order to secure” an unnamed recruit, who is believed to be Smart.

Wade, at the time, wasn’t suspended because of the reports, but rather because he and his legal counsel declined to meet with LSU and NCAA officials regarding the reports. Wade’s alleged insubordination and failure to cooperate spanned much longer than those 37 days, according to the NOA, which is also a Level I violation.

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During the NCAA’s investigation of multiple instances of misconduct within the basketball team, Wade “violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct and failed to cooperate in the investigation” of numerous allegations, including four violations outlined in the NOA and “a number of other allegations” the NCAA wasn’t able to fully substantiate.

Wade, according to the NOA, was repeatedly asked to produce thousands of records and he declined, only doing so on August 20, 2021, which is nearly three years after the NCAA first requested them. The CCU wrote that Wade’s delay “was unjustified and obstructed” the NCAA’s investigation, even after “several allegations had surfaced publicly in the media.”

Additionally, Wade is alleged to have paid money to an unnamed former fiancée of an LSU athlete in exchange for her silence regarding Wade’s payments to players.

The woman texted Wade on July 25, 2017, saying “I know you also gave money to some of your new recruits,” and then she followed up by saying “my trainer I use to work with has talked to a few (people) in the basketball world & have offered me money to talk. (Please) contact me by the end of the day or I will have to take them up on the offer.” Wade responded by telling her to call him.

Two days later, the woman texted “I need 5 more. … Put it in the same account.” Then the next day she texted, asking for Wade to “send 9” more. “You’ve done your part now I have to do mine and make sure this doesn’t get out,” the woman said.

However, the payment for “9” appears to not have gone through, because the woman texted Wade a few days later to ask if he had seen her message. Wade responded, “Yes I did. I thought we were done.”

The woman said she needed more money than initially discussed. “We will be done (with) everything after this,” she said. Wade responded the next day, Aug. 1, 2017, by saying “I’m sorry you are having money issues. You said we were done after the last transfer I sent, so in my mind we are done.”

The texts regarding the payment to the woman, the CCU found, coincided with the commitment of another prospect. The NCAA determined this was a Level I violation that could command a show-cause penalty for Wade.

In another allegation involving Wade, he was alleged to have made payments of an unknown sum in April 2018 to an unnamed man for his services to act as an impermissible recruiter for an unnamed player. The money, according to the allegation, came out of a bank account in Wade’s wife’s name. Wade and his spouse, Lauren, supposedly treated it as a joint account. The NCAA determined this was a Level I violation that could command a show-cause penalty for Wade.

The Level I allegation involving Armstrong came after Wade’s suspension. Between February and June of 2020, Armstrong is alleged to have offered $300,000 in cash in an effort to get an unknown international athlete to commit to LSU. Additionally, Armstrong is alleged to have promised a car for the athlete’s cousin, a scholarship for a friend, and assistance in securing Visas to the player and/or his family and other associates in an effort to get the athlete to commit. According to the NOA, this was done with Wade’s knowledge, and is a Level I violation that could command a show-cause penalty for Armstrong.

On top of the Level I violation pertaining to Wade’s alleged lack of cooperation and the Level I violations for specific rules violations, Wade was also levied with an additional Level I violation because he was deemed responsible for the specific misconduct pertaining to impermissible benefits to prospective players and/or close to them — which also carries a potential for “head coach restrictions.”

The Level II allegation includes both Wade and Armstrong, and they are alleged to have had an impermissible in-person contact with the parents of a prospective player. Wade and Armstrong went to watch a high school state basketball state tournament, which included a game that featured the player in question. After the game, Wade and Armstrong met with the family at a restaurant. The reason this was a Level II violation rather than one of a lesser category was because of multiple factors, including how the meeting was prearranged and initiated by Wade and Armstrong. Because of this, the instance could command a show-cause penalty for Wade and/or Armstrong.

Though LSU fired Wade, the case will continue. LSU has several weeks to respond to the notice of allegations, and once the IARP responds to that, there will be a hearing scheduled to determine penalties. The IARP’s final ruling cannot be appealed.

Staff writer Sheldon Mickles contributed to this report.

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