Wade fired by LSU after NCAA’s report alleges severe Level I violations

LSU fired men’s basketball coach Will Wade the school announced Saturday, three days after the NCAA’s Complex Case Unit of the Independent Accountability Resolution Process issued its notice of allegations against the school’s men’s basketball and football programs.

In a joint release from athletic director Scott Woodward and president William Tate IV, the school also said LSU associate head coach Bill Armstrong had been fired.

“After receiving the Notice earlier this week, we took several days to fully evaluate it and engage in deliberate and thoughtful discussions about our 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. Our responsibility to protect and promote the integrity and well-being of our entire institution and our student-athletes will always be paramount,” Woodward and Tate said.

For the second time in four years LSU will be coached by an interim coach during the postseason with assistant coach Kevin Nickelberry coaching the Tigers (22-11) in the NCAA tournament which will be unveiled Sunday at 5 p.m. Nickelberry has previous head coaching experience at Howard and Hampton and was on the staffs at both Clemson and DePaul before joining LSU.

The news came down several hours after LSU had returned home from the Southeastern Conference tournament in Tampa, Fla. where they lost 79-67 to Arkansas on Friday in the quarterfinal round of the event.

The Tigers were projected to receive a sixth seed before several news agencies, including CBS Sports, reported the results of the NCAA’s report.

The NCAA’s report, which LSU released on Saturday, contained a total of 11 violations, eight of which rose to the most serious Level I group with seven of those being tied to the men’s basketball program and one against the football program.

Five of the Level I allegations were linked to Wade, 39, ranging from the payment for players, attempts to pay others for their silence and failing to cooperate with an investigation. He was also named in a Level II violation along with Armstrong, who was named in one Level I violation and one Level II violation.

The allegations also pointed a finger at both LSU’s two highest profile programs – men’s basketball and football – for a lack of institutional control over an eight-year span (Feb. 2012-June 2020).

“Notably, our decision to terminate Coach Wade and Coach Armstrong is not an acknowledgement of agreement with any of the allegations. The University will determine its positions on the allegations after an exhaustive and objective examination of the relevant facts and applicable NCAA regulations,” the school said.

LSU was 105-54 during a tenure in which Wade first became a subject of the NCAA in 2017 when Yahoo Sports detailed a conversation Wade had with now convicted street agent Christian Dawkins that was ensnared on an FBI wiretap. He openly spoke about having made a “strong-ass offer” to a prospective player who was later identified as former guard JaVonte Smart, a recruit from Scotlandville High who signed and played three years for the Tigers.

Wade was suspended March 7, 2019 following the release of the transcript of the phone conversation but was reinstated in April when his contract was restructured under then athletic director Joe Alleva, providing the school the autonomy to fire him with cause in the event he was subject of either Level I or Level II allegations.

He also forfeited $250,000 of incentive pay for the 2018-19 campaign followed by the school adding the additional teeth to its contract with Wade should allegations from the NCAA ever rise to the Level I or II level.

In addition to the FBI wiretap involving Dawkins, which was part of the HBO documentary “The Scheme” in March 2020, the NCAA retrieved several emails from the cellphone of Wade that, “violated the principles of ethical conduct/offered impermissible recruiting inducements and job offers to secure prospective student-athlete’s commitment.”

The emails, which were heavily redacted, accused Wade of allegedly offering cash or a job to an assistant coach who was closely associated with a recruit, agreeing to send money to the former fiancée’ of a player in exchange for her silence regarding such payments and allegedly making payments from his wife’s bank account.

“The Notice contains serious allegations, including multiple charges alleging Coach Wade’s personal involvement in — or awareness of — Level I misconduct,” the school said. “After receiving the Notice earlier this week, we took several days to fully evaluate it and engage in deliberate and thoughtful discussions about our next steps.”

LSU’s football program, which underwent a change in head coaches to Brian Kelly on Nov. 30, was also found to have committed three violations with the most series (Level I) taking place when a booster, John Paul Funes, admitted to embezzling $550,000 from an Our of Lake Foundation and giving $180,000 of that money to the parents of former LSU football players.

There was also a Level II allegation levied against the football program when former LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. handed out $2,000 in cash to four players on the field of the Superdome following the Tigers’ 42-25 victory Jan. 20 over Clemson for the College Football national championship.

As part of its self-imposed sanctions LSU banned Beckham from all of its football facilities for two years and nearly a year later, imposed a bowl ban on the 2020 team that was 3-5 at the time in order to help soften any impending rulings from the NCAA.

The school had already sanctioned then head coach Ed Orgeron, who was named in the NCAA’s report for a Level III allegation, because he made impermissible contact with a prospective recruit. He faced reduced recruiting visits and evaluations, while the program also docked itself eight total scholarships over a two-year period.

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William Weathers

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