Wiedmer: LSU proves college basketball still stinks on occasion

Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / The basketball goes through the net during the UTC vs. Liberty University womenÕs basketball game at McKenzie Arena Wednesday, November 21, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

You know how every now and then you find yourself on the Southside when the wind blows just wrong and you're suddenly overwhelmed by what Charles Barkley might politely call a malodorous scent from the nearby chicken plant?

It's not always present. It might disappear for several days, even weeks, depending on the breeze. But if you visit the area often enough, it always returns.

Reminds you a little bit of college basketball these days, doesn't it?

To view the sport through its annual holiday season known as March Madness was to witness why so many of us love it so. Just revisit the last seven games of the NCAA tournament - the four regional finals and three Final Four games, including Virginia's stunning overtime victory over Texas Tech in the national championship game.

Only one of those seven games was decided by more than single digits, and three of them went to overtime. It wasn't just March Madness, it was March Magic, as competitive and exciting a tournament from start to finish as we've seen in awhile.

But then came Sunday night, and while most of the sports world quite happily was held hostage by Tiger Woods winning the Masters for the first time in 14 years, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva was reminding us why college hoops can make a chicken plant smell like Chanel No. 5

According to Alleva, who certainly picked a good time to fly a stinker of a story under the radar, the school is retaining Will Wade as its basketball coach 37 days after indefinitely suspending him for some rather questionable behavior on an FBI wiretap.

In case you've forgotten, Wade, a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach, seemingly was caught on tape discussing with would-be sports agent Christian Dawkins the possible purchase of Baton Rouge prep sensation Javonte Smart, who later signed with the Tigers.

Not exactly befitting someone who prepped at Nashville's Christian-based Franklin Road Academy, where his mother was once the headmaster, Wade threw around such phrases as "(expletive) strong-ass offer" and joked about the "(NBA) minimum wage." Discussing the possible recruitment of a different player, he reportedly said to Dawkins - who since has pleaded guilty to wire fraud, a plea that will earn him jail time - "I have got to shut my door (brief delay). I can get you what you need, but it's got to work."

Now, 37 days after deciding it couldn't stand the stench of this hanging over their program, the LSU brass apparently have flipped on the exhaust fan, broken out the air freshener and decided to hope against hope that college hoops' ill winds will blow elsewhere for a bit.

"Coach Wade met Friday with university and NCAA officials," Alleva said in a released statement. "During those meetings, he answered all questions and denied any wrongdoing in connection with recently reported allegations of irregularities in college basketball recruiting."

Why it took 37 days to correct this is certainly a fair question to ask. Then again, Wade did guide the Bayou Bengals to the SEC regular-season title in just his second year on the job.

Interviewed on a Baton Rouge radio show Monday, ESPN analyst Dick Vitale - a frequent critic of Wade the past few weeks - reportedly said the following, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate: "I wasn't there. We don't know what transpired. But I guess there was total denial on his part. And unless you can prove there was cash laid out, I guess legally he has an argument. And obviously they felt that way and they reinstated him."

As has been written before in this column space, therein lies the problem. Show me the money or show the investigators the door. If you're caught on a wiretap discussing what it would take to rob a bank but you never rob it, there would seem to no case.

Similarly, if there's no evidence of money changing hands, Wade and his legal eagles should be able to argue that he was merely on a fishing expedition to see how many NCAA rules the program might need to break to sign Smart or any other player. Thus there is no reasonable cause to fire him.

The school previously said it investigated Smart and found him and his family innocent of any wrongdoing. With Smart now declaring for the NBA, that story would seem to be at an end, particularly since his family is unlikely to say or do anything that might later cause the LSU athletic family any trouble.

This isn't over, of course. A U.S. District Court judge in New York is expected to rule Friday whether Wade and Arizona coach Sean Miller can be subpoenaed to testify in an upcoming federal trial regarding college basketball corruption.

In an odd twist earlier this month that smacks of shoe company and NCAA influence, federal prosecutors asked a judge to prevent coaches from testifying in a trial set to begin next Monday on the thin argument that it would shift the focus from the defendants.

Or protect the status quo.

Noted Vitale on Monday, referring to the $100,000 that Adidas reportedly paid Brian Bowen's family to have him sign with Louisville: "What about all these great, great one-and-done players over the years? If a shoe company is giving $100,000 to Bowen, are we that naïve to think other kids have not received it? It's a mess."

It stinks. To high heaven. But as the Wade case again proved, college administrators are apparently a long way from ridding themselves of an occasional bad odor when the won-lost record carries the sweet smell of success.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at [email protected]