LSU fans are known to be rowdy on occasion, but it’s not often when the Tiger faithful turn on their own kind.
But when they do, they do so loudly.
Tiger fans showed up to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in droves Saturday night, not only to watch LSU defeat Vanderbilt 80-59 to secure sole possession of the Southeastern Conference regular season title, but to voice their displeasure about LSU’s handling of the controversy surrounding head coach Will Wade.
Fans could be seen sporting shorts that said “I Will Wade For You,” and “FreeWillWade” as well as signs supporting both Wade and freshman guard Javonte Smart, who missed the game after getting caught up in the alleged scandal.
Much of the vitriol was directed at LSU athletics director Joe Alleva — who attended Saturday’s game — as he and university president F. King Alexander opted to suspend Will Wade on Friday, a day after after a Yahoo Sports report surfaced citing a conversation wiretapped by the FBI that appears to show Will Wade discussing benefits for a third-party involved in Smart’s recruitment.
But many of the fans in the PMAC felt Alleva and Alexander jumped the gun with the suspension, and they had no problem voicing their displeasure throughout the game with chants that included “Free Will Wade,” “Joe Must Go” and “Free Javonte,” amid a few more vulgar mantras.
“I think it’s just a tough situation for the guy (Wade),” said Jack Nunneley while sporting an “I Will Wade For You” t-shirt. “I think he’s fallen into a trap, and I think he should be supported a bit more.
“I don’t think he’s gotten the support he needed from Alleva and President King. I think he should have been backed until everything came to the public.”
Like Nunneley, many Tiger fans feel like Alleva and King should have waited until more concrete evidence against against Wade emerged before pulling the trigger on the suspension.
Another fan, Troy Dixon, said he feels LSU’s decision to suspend Wade makes the program look guilty. He also showed frustration with the perception that the program can’t seem to make up its mind.
“When you suspend him, you’re basically admitting guilt,” Dixon said. “Now you have to defend yourself. If you have something, fire him. If not, stand behind him. They’re playing defense, and they’re scared. That’s the way I see it. If you know he did something wrong, fire him.”
Others said they don’t care even if Wade committed NCAA violations during the recruiting process.
Sophomore student Trey Shepherd — who could be seen in the student section sporting a sign that read “Trump, please pardon Will Wade,” said he felt LSU was being unfairly targeted in the investigation.
“I feel like everybody pays their players, right?” Shepherd said. “If you want a Top 100 recruit, you have to pay them. We want to compete, right? So we have guys here. I’m all about getting them here in any way we can.
“I wonder how much they’re paying Zion Williamson. Javonte Smart, he’s what, a Top 50 player? I wonder how much a Top 10 guy costs. I don’t understand why LSU is the only one that has to suffer the repercussions of what’s going on, which is a league-wide problem. I think it’s ridiculous.”
Shepherd also seemed confounded at the fact that the FBI was spending any time investigating college basketball, another common sentiment among not just LSU fans, but fans of programs involved in the scandal across the country.
“I don’t understand why the FBI… I feel like they’ve got better things to be doing than investigating this. I mean, it’s basketball. The only thing that’s happened is there’s money going under the table to people that probably need it. I think it’s totally unfair.”
A common thread among fans who spoke with Tiger Rag included frustration with how investigations like this seem to hurt student-athletes, such as Smart, rather than coaches or administrations that have a much more direct role in the process of transferring improper benefits.
“(Smart) is the one who’s getting punished for allegedly somebody else’s thing,” Nunneley said. “He came to LSU to represent the purple and gold, and unfortunately he doesn’t get to play on a night when they can win the championship.”