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Sources: NCAA Unit Interviews LSU Coach Will Wade as Part of Ongoing Investigation

It's a significant step in the inquiry into the Tigers' men's basketball program, and a notice of allegations could follow during the season.
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LSU men’s basketball coach Will Wade had an interview last week that stretched over two days to answer questions related to the NCAA investigation of his program, sources tell Sports Illustrated. The interview is a significant step toward finalizing that inquiry and ultimately issuing a notice of allegations (NOA) to the school.

Representatives of the Complex Case Unit, the investigative arm of the Independent Accountability Resolution Process that was created as an “off ramp” from the NCAA’s peer-review system, interviewed Wade last Wednesday and Thursday in Baton Rouge, sources say. At least one additional interview with an LSU assistant coach is scheduled for this week.

Wade’s attorney, Steve Thompson, did not return calls for comment from SI. Messages left for LSU officials were not immediately returned.

LSU coach Will Wade

If Wade receives a Level I or Level II infraction, he could be fired without cause, per his contract. 

As a result, an initial Nov. 1 target date for delivering an NOA to the school has been extended. It is unclear when that notice will arrive, but it is expected to encompass allegations in two sports, football and men’s basketball. LSU had lobbied during the summer for the two cases to be separated, but the investigation has proceeded as a single case.

Wade’s job status could hinge on what is in the NOA. If he is charged with a Level I or Level II violation—major infractions—he can be fired without cause, according to an amended contract he agreed to in spring 2019. An NOA could be delivered during the upcoming basketball season, although the timeline for resolving the case likely would extend past its conclusion. However, closure for the case will be expedited by the fact that the IARP has no appeals process.

LSU has acknowledged the violations in the football case. It self-imposed sanctions last year, including a bowl ban and scholarship reductions related to booster payments to the father of a former player, plus a two-year disassociation from the program for star former receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who handed out $2,000 to players on the field after the Tigers won the 2019-20 College Football Playoff championship.

The basketball investigation arose from the federal probe of corruption in the sport that came to light in September 2017. In March 2019, Yahoo! Sports reported FBI agents recorded wiretapped conversations Wade had with aspiring agent Christian Dawkins in June 2017 about recruiting players.

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On one call, Wade told Dawkins he had made a “strong-ass offer” in an attempt to land recruit Javonte Smart, who ultimately signed with LSU and played three years there before going pro. The audio of the call eventually went public as part of an HBO documentary about Dawkins called “The Scheme.”

“Dude,” Wade said to Dawkins, referring to a third party involved in the recruitment, “I went to him with a [expletive] strong-ass offer about a month ago. [Expletive] strong. The problem was, I know why he didn’t take it now, it was [expletive] tilted toward the family a little bit. It was tilted toward taking care of the mom, taking care of the kid. Like it was tilted towards that. Now I know for a fact he didn’t explain everything to the mom. I know now, he didn’t get enough of the piece of the pie in the deal.”

After the Yahoo report, Wade refused to discuss the matter with LSU officials and was suspended for the 2019 Southeastern Conference tournament and NCAA Tournament. He reversed course and met with them in April of that year and was reinstated. Wade did not discuss the case until that May at SEC spring meetings, where he deflected questions about the contents of the wiretap.

"In my meetings with LSU and the NCAA, I addressed all the media reports, everything that has been reported, and that ultimately led to my reinstatement,” Wade said in part at the time. “I can’t get into the specifics based on the confidentiality of that meeting.”

In August 2020, ESPN reported that a document from NCAA Director of Enforcement Jonathan Duncan said his staff received information that “Mr. Wade arranged for, offered and/or provided impermissible payments, including cash payments, to at least 11 men's basketball prospective student-athletes, their family members, individuals associated with the prospects and/or non-scholastic coaches in exchange for the prospects' enrollment at LSU.” That was included in the NCAA enforcement staff's request that the case be transferred to the IARP for resolution.

The LSU case has been one of the highest-profile to come out of the federal probe of the sport, and progress is finally being made on several fronts, as SI reported last month. A ruling on North Carolina State’s IARP case is expected soon. Auburn has had its hearing before the NCAA Committee on Infractions, with a ruling perhaps being issued during this calendar year. IARP cases involving Kansas, Louisville and Arizona likely will be resolved in 2022, though the timelines are unclear. Memphis also is involved in a major IARP infractions case that did not stem from the FBI investigation.

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