NCAA – LSU basketball coach Will Wade part of impermissible payments to potential recruits, others – ESPN

The NCAA says LSU men’s basketball coach Will Wade either arranged for or offered “impermissible payments” to at least 11 potential recruits or others around them, according to documents obtained Wednesday by ESPN.

The documents say the NCAA’s enforcement staff received information that 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 nonscholastic coaches in exchange for the prospects’ enrollment at LSU.”

The allegations were included in the NCAA enforcement staff’s request that its infractions case involving the LSU men’s basketball program be adjudicated through the Independent Accountability Resolution Process, which was created to handle complex cases.

In a July 15 letter, NCAA vice president of enforcement Jonathan Duncan wrote that the case satisfies at least five of the seven factors for referring the case to the IARP.

“Many of those factors are triggered by the actions of Will Wade, head men’s basketball coach at Louisiana State University,” Duncan wrote. “Some of his underlying actions gave rise to this case and his tactics during the investigation have delayed resolution dramatically. He is employed in a leadership position at LSU, yet the institution has been unable to secure his full cooperation and is accountable for his behavior.”

In March, an HBO documentary included audio recordings in which Wade talked about making a “strong ass” offer to sign a high-profile recruit. “The Scheme” included audio of a lengthy telephone call between Wade and Christian Dawkins, a former runner for an NBA agent and aspiring business manager, in which Wade discussed the offer to sign coveted guard Javonte Smart.

ESPN and Yahoo Sports had previously reported about the contents of the call.

Wade, who was suspended and then reinstated after those reports in 2019, denied doing business for players with Dawkins.

“I think the only way you can interpret someone in a head-coaching position saying that they made a strong-ass offer, they ain’t talking about a scholarship offer, bro,” Dawkins said in the film. “One hundred percent talking about money.”

In the film, Dawkins even applauded Wade for avoiding criminal charges and keeping his job.

“Just the audacity. You’ve got to take your hat off to him, man,” Dawkins said. “He not only didn’t get charged for anything, not only did the government have all of this information and evidence and nothing was happening on a criminal level, he also basically just said f— you to the NCAA and the university he worked for … and he still got to keep his job and make millions of dollars. It’s like the perfect storm.

“Will Wade is definitely a f—ing gangster for what he did.”

In response to an open records request from ESPN, LSU officials said in February that the university had not received a notice of inquiry or notice of allegations from the NCAA. Sources previously told ESPN that LSU was among a handful of schools being investigated for potential rules violations in their basketball programs.

As part of Wade’s reinstatement, he agreed to an amended contract that included a new stipulation that allows the university to fire him with cause if he’s found to have committed Level I or Level II violations. Under the terms of the amended contract, Wade agreed to forfeit a $250,000 performance bonus for the 2018-19 season. He also agreed not to sue the university if he’s fired with cause.

The Infractions Referral Committee (IRC) will decide whether the LSU case is handled by the IARP. In a 10-page letter to the IRC, LSU’s attorneys did not object to the basketball matter being adjudicated by the IARP, as long as three allegations involving the school’s football program aren’t included in the case.

“Because the University and enforcement staff agree that the football investigation is complete, which is evident from their discussions of a possible resolution of that case in the weeks prior to the IRC decision on the Kansas referral, LSU stands ready to continue its efforts to resolve the football inquiry through traditional processes and does not believe the delay inherent in this proposed referral is consistent with any of the well-established goals and objectives of the enforcement process,” LSU’s attorneys, Robert Barton and Mike Glazier, wrote in an Aug. 18 response.

In the referral letter to the IRC, Duncan argued that the basketball and football investigations should be adjudicated together.

“The potential football allegations share certain patterns with the basketball investigation, including booster involvement in NCAA violations,” Duncan wrote. “The behaviors related to football also could inform on general institutional allegations, such as potential failure to monitor, and applicable aggravating or mitigating factors.”

The most serious allegation related to LSU’s football program involves booster John Paul Funes, a former CEO of a hospital foundation whom the enforcement staff accused of “providing funds to the families of current and former student-athletes, arranging for members of the institution’s football staff to use a private plane and offering internships to football student-athletes.”

The enforcement staff confirmed that Funes “arranged employment beginning in 2012 for the parents of a then football student-athlete and paid the father $180,000 during 2012-17 for a no-show job.”

The father, who was identified as “Individual C” in a federal indictment, is the father of former LSU offensive lineman Vadal Alexander, sources previously told ESPN. Alexander was a four-year starter for the Tigers from 2012 to 2015. His father, James Alexander, is a self-employed entrepreneur in Atlanta.

In October, Funes pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $500,000 from the hospital foundation and giving some of the money to the parents of two former LSU players. He was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison.

LSU was notified of the allegations by the hospital in November 2018, and former university president F. King Alexander and former athletics director Joe Alleva informed the NCAA of the matter the same day, according to the school’s attorneys.

LSU’s football program is also charged with a Level III violation involving former star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who gave $2,000 in cash to four Tigers football players on the field after the team’s 42-25 victory over Clemson in the CFP National Championship on Jan. 13.

In the referral letter to the IRC, Duncan wrote that LSU “worked quickly to recover the money and investigate other potential violations involving Mr. Beckham.” Beckham, in his second season with the Cleveland Browns, declined to be interviewed and provided written responses to questions submitted by LSU and the NCAA enforcement staff, according to Duncan.

The enforcement staff also investigated another potential violation involving Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron, who was accused of having an impermissible recruiting contact in January 2019. LSU’s attorneys wrote that Orgeron admitted to having “inadvertent but impermissible contact” with a prospect. LSU investigated and self-reported the violation and placed recruiting restrictions on Orgeron and the prospect.

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