BATON ROUGE, La. — A day after LSU administrators publicly issued an ultimatum to their suspended basketball coach, Will Wade released a statement requesting he be reinstated and calling the school’s decision “inappropriate.” Wade says he advised LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, president F. King Alexander and the school’s board of supervisors on Thursday morning that he’d like to return to work despite declining to cooperate in an internal investigation into taped conversations with recruiting middleman Christian Dawkins published last week in a Yahoo! Sports story.
Wade made clear in the statement that he will not speak to school officials about the investigation under advice of counsel and chided the school for suspending him for “exercising my constitutional rights.”
The statement is the latest chapter of a saga that began a week ago, when Yahoo! Sports detailed a wire-tapped discussion Wade had with former Adidas consultant Dawkins about an offer to a recruit. The school responded to Wade’s statement Thursday during an interview with Sports Illustrated. “In everything that’s been said by Will and his folks in the past week, not once have they denied any wrongdoing,” says Tom Skinner, the school’s general counsel. “As a university and employer, we need to hear our employee say, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong,’ or explain the circumstances or admit he did do something wrong. We’ve been unable to get to that point. We have no choice, in terms of institutional control, to not suspend someone.”
Skinner says Wade's attorneys sent an email this morning demanding his reinstatement and explaining his constitutional right.
For LSU, the words institutional control are at the heart of the matter. A school’s biggest fear is being sanctioned by the NCAA for lacking institutional control, a ruling that could set an athletic department back years and open it up to investigations in multiple sports. “The phrase institutional control is tossed around, but the shorthand version is the NCAA wants universities to have control over their programs,” Skinner says. “They want those universities to have procedures and follow those procedures. If there’s potential wrongdoing that arises, what’d the university do to stop that wrongdoing and take appropriate action? In this case, there have been allegations made via the media of some improper activity. We want to meet with him about it. We have to demonstrate we’ve taken appropriate action.”
Under advice of counsel, Wade declined to meet with school officials last Friday, prompting them to suspend the coach. Without Wade, the Tigers walloped Vanderbilt to win the SEC regular season title in an intense and emotional regular season finale at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. They play Friday as the No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament, something Wade is demanding to participate in, according to his statement.
“I have been placed on leave because I exercised my right not to submit to a join LSU/NCAA interview on the exact subject matter at issue in an impending federal criminal trial in New York,” Wade says in the statement, released to Sports Illustrated and several local media outlets. “My legal counsel advised the University that it would be wholly inappropriate for me, or anyone, to submit to an interview under these circumstances. … 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.”
On Wednesday, Alleva and other LSU officials told The Advocate in Baton Rouge that Wade would not return to the court until he meets with university leaders about the taped conversations in the Yahoo! Sports story. Meanwhile, the investigation into LSU guard Javonte Smart, the likely subject of Wade’s taped discussion with Dawkins, is winding down. Skinner says the investigation should be complete Friday, in time to potentially clear Smart for LSU’s opening game of the SEC tournament. LSU interviewed Smart, his mother Melinda and another person close to the family. A fourth interview is ongoing.
Wade, meanwhile, is staying mum, at the behest of his legal counsel. Wade was scheduled to meet with Alleva on Friday morning last week, a day after the Yahoo! Sports story was published, but his attorney canceled the meeting after LSU officials did not meet their demands: to hold the meeting without an NCAA representative and to limit the scope of the questions. “That’s a red flag,” one LSU official told Sports Illustrated over the weekend. University leaders felt forced to suspend an employee who refused to answer questions about key matters that could, later on, impact the school through potential NCAA sanctions. “The bottom line is Coach Wade put us in this position,” LSU general counsel Tom Skinner told The Advocate.
While LSU and Wade remain in a stalemate, their attorneys are in communication, mostly by phone but sometimes through email. Michael McGovern, working at the New York-based firm Ropes & Gray, is representing Wade. Bob Barton, out of Baton Rouge’s Taylor Porter, is the university’s longtime legal counsel.
An email exchange between the two earlier this week speaks to the strained relationship between the two sides. McGovern sent a one-sentence email Tuesday to Alleva and Alexander informing them that Wade would meet with them only after the sweeping federal criminal investigation is complete. He carbon copied the LSU Board of Supervisors, LSU general counsel Tom Skinner and Barton. Barton responded with a multi-paragraph email detailing how McGovern broke the state’s attorney conduct rules by directly contacting Alleva and Alexander, condemning the action and writing that “such inappropriate communications will not be tolerated.” Also in his response, Barton writes that McGovern’s email “misrepresents” the discussion the two men had Sunday, a day after the Tigers clinched the SEC championship and two days after LSU suspended Wade. The emails were obtained by Sports Illustrated through a public records request.