Will Wade’s LSU benefits scandal resurfaces in NIL era

LSU's Will Wade is under investigation by the NCAA.

LSU’s Will Wade is under investigation by the NCAA.
Picture: Getty Images

For 50 years, the NCAA’s Narcs were the equivalent of law enforcement locking up law-abiding citizens for possession. Rather than actively fighting for the rights they were finally forced to accept last year, their offenses committee has stubbornly pursued victimless crimes like Rick Majeris pays for a pizza or Will Wade’s NCAA violations.

On the field, LSU is 21-10 and one shoo-in for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Off the field, the NCAA continues to dig up the 2017 “unallowable benefit” violations because they have nothing else to do with their free time. According to Sports Illustratedthe Notice of Allegations from the NCAA’s Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP) Complex Cases Unit, which handles complex NCAA investigations, advised LSU of potential abuses in basketball programs -ball and men’s football.

The men’s basketball violations stem from a high-profile wiretap. The highlight was Wade discussing the “solid offer” he made to keep Javonte Smart with middleman Christian Dawkins.

Wade was suspended for the final five games of his 2017 season, but rescinded that suspension after the NCAA Tournament. During his 2017 suspension, Wade pulled off one of the most dangling moves of all time when he simply refused to speak to LSU officials. He ultimately remained employed by LSU because he was 25-5 and cleaning up the recruiting track.

Wade won’t have the same options to fight for his job with the same tenacity he showed five years ago. A contract amendment he agreed to in April 2019 allows LSU to terminate with cause if he is fined for NCAA Violations. Essentially, he waived all grounds for a lawsuit in the event of termination.

However, that was before the NCAA abolished its archaic amateur model. The new NIL rules gave student-athletes the opportunity to earn compensation from their name and likeness through endorsements, advertisements or paid personal appearances.

The NCAA used to get by, handing out penalties for violators of their amateur status. Now that much of what the NCAA used to enforce has been legalized, they don’t know what to do with themselves.

News of the NCAA investigating a five-year case has increased calls for Wade’s job because it’s muscle memory. But why should LSU fire him now?

Wade was a rule breaker under the old paradigm. It may also be the last example made by the old NCAA. Recidivist coaches who can condemn a program to oblivion have become legitimate. Coaches no longer need to work with bagmen and shady agents for student-athletes.

Any coach who gets caught organizing player benefits in the NIL era is just plain stupid. The perks Wade has arranged for his rookies pale in comparison to the NIL deals players have signed over the past year. Athletic departments used to have a long leash for inappropriate and reprobate behavior by coaches and student-athletes, but getting caught paying broke players for what they were worth was the ultimate red line.

Illegal benefits were never a violation worthy of firing a coach. They were just working around the draconian policies of the NCAA.

Keep things in perspective. Wade is not charged with an actual crime or money laundering or physical or emotional abuse. If LSU succumbs to old habits and fires Wade, he should be recouped quickly after going 86-35 in his last four seasons by Maryland or any number of schools with vacancies. Apparently, Wade allegedly provided illicit benefits to as many as 11 prospects. Hopefully it was more.

Rooting for Wade to be punished by LSU is like rooting for aggressive Russian cannabis laws. Other peccadilloes mentioned in the IARP’s Notice of Allegations are Odell Beckham’s silly payments to LSU players after the NCAA Championship game. We are years away from the NCAA calling for noise ordinance violations.

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