BATON ROUGE, La. — The standoff is nearing an end. Suspended basketball coach Will Wade is scheduled to meet with LSU and NCAA officials on Friday, agreeing to speak after more than a month of silence. The school confirmed the news Thursday when Sports Illustrated requested a comment on the impending meeting. It ends a 34-day stalemate between the two sides and begins what could be a long-winding process to reinstatement. The meeting is only an initial step in an investigation into a wiretapped phone conversation between the coach and a recruiting middleman revealed last month in a Yahoo! Sports story. School officials placed the coach on indefinite suspension March 8 for declining to speak with them on the matter.
Just four weeks ago, the two sides seemed leagues apart. Wade even responded to a public ultimatum from the school—talk or remain suspended—by releasing a statement calling the university’s decision “inappropriate,” but two recent developments may have been catalysts for a meeting. On Friday, federal prosecutors filed a motion asking a judge to prevent Wade from testifying at an upcoming bribery trial in the FBI’s investigation into the seedy underworld of college basketball. Many believe he will not have to testify. The other advancement in the case came in the form of an addition to Wade’s team of attorneys. Steven Thompson, a Chicago-based lawyer known for his work with coaches on NCAA matters, joined the group to lead the coach’s NCAA infractions counsel. Thompson also represents Arizona coach Sean Miller and Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, who, like Wade, were both caught in the FBI’s probe. Michael McGovern, working at the New York-based firm Ropes & Gray, remains Wade’s lead counsel in the case.
Wade did not respond to messages for comment. LSU senior associate athletic director Robert Munson released a statement to SI: “I can confirm there is a meeting scheduled tomorrow with Coach Wade, LSU officials and the NCAA within the parameters LSU first requested in early March. University officials have made clear their expectation for full cooperation and transparency in this first step in a process toward resolution.”
Friday’s meeting isn’t all that surprising. Sports Illustrated reported last week that the two sides were inching toward a meeting after the addition of Thompson. Details of the meeting are unclear, but the NCAA is expected to be heavily involved. The NCAA’s involvement is the reason Wade, under advice of his previous infractions counsel, originally refused to meet with LSU. The NCAA has requested to be involved in all interviews on this matter, and NCAA investigators often lead the questioning in these joint interviews, such as the ones conducted last month with LSU guard Javonte Smart.
The 36-year-old Wade, who in two years turned LSU from an SEC cellar-dweller to the regular-season conference champion, is a polarizing figure. In Baton Rouge, fans and even some local media members are staunchly behind him, many of them critical of the administration’s decision to suspend the coach for what they believe was a hasty move. The outrage from fans has poured into LSU officials’ inboxes, some of them full of vulgar language and threatening messages and others demanding athletic director Joe Alleva, school president F. King Alexander or both men resign or be fired. On the national level, Wade is a punching bag among pundits and rival fans, one of the more egregious perpetrators in the FBI’s investigation. ESPN analyst Dick Vitale is at the forefront. His sharp criticism of the coach has even spawned social media spats with angry LSU fans.
At the center of the mess is a March 7 Yahoo! Sports report detailing a conversation recorded on FBI wiretaps between Wade and recruiting middleman Christian Dawkins in which the coach discusses a “strong-ass offer” he made to a recruit. Wade was suspended a day before the Tigers secured their first conference title in a decade with a thumping of Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale. Under interim coach Tony Benford, they advanced to the Sweet 16 before a loss to Michigan State. The program is without its head coach in a fluid period of the calendar. Players are deciding whether to turn pro (four have already declared), the recruiting cycle is wrapping up (the late signing period begins April 17 and extends to May 15) and the coaching market is buzzing (four SEC schools have already filled their head coaching vacancies).