Mar 22, 2017; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva introduces new basketball head coach Will Wade during a press conference at the LSU Student Union.

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LSU is now all-in on Will Wade and a win-at-all-costs philosophy

Wade won a power struggle with ousted AD Joe Alleva

Seth Dunlap
April 17, 2019 - 7:35 pm
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I didn't expect to find myself in this place, putting fingers to keyboard in defense of ousted LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva.  Perhaps this isn't a defense of him, but a plea for the preservation of our sense of morality, of right and wrong, that so many have seemed to have forgotten in the wake of the Will Wade scandal.

Not long ago I was openly questioning Alleva's job security.  He had bungled Les Miles' exit (before it actually happened a year later), swung-and-missed on the Trent Johnson and Jonny Jones basketball hires, and had so hopelessly misjudged the allure of the LSU football program that Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman, two fan and booster favorites to be the Tigers' coach, passed on an opportunity in Baton Rouge to instead head west to programs in the state of Texas.  Alleva survived that period of trepidation and watched as Ed Orgeron and Will Wade, his two latest revenue sport coaching hires, quickly turned their respective programs into conference and national contenders.  Alleva had been issued a reprieve, if not an exoneration, it seemed.

Then it all fell apart quicker than you can say, "Will Wade wire tap."  Wade was caught on multiple wiretaps seemingly discussing paying or compensating incoming recruits to his basketball program.  That saga is ongoing, and perhaps Wade will eventually be exonerated, or at least be able to claim innocence by lack of evidence.  But it wasn't Wade's recruiting transgressions that directly led to his suspension.  Instead, it was his initial refusal to meet with his bosses -- Alleva and university president F. King Alexander -- along with NCAA investigators that forced Alleva's hand.  In refusing to meet, Wade had given his superiors the proverbial middle finger and shown a level of insubordination that could have warranted a termination for cause. 

There was no termination, but the now-temporary suspension was immediately attacked from all sides of the fan base.  It was, and still is, a bizarre reaction from Tiger fans who must know that the suspension was warranted, regardless of their time spent tweeting at Alleva and Alexander in ALL CAPS.  What was Alleva supposed to do, allow an insubordinate coach to face no repercussions for refusing to meet with his superiors?  Even if those fans who somehow believe Wade is just the fall guy for widespread illicit recruiting tactics across the college basketball landscape must at least acknowledge Wade's suspension was warranted for defiance of his bosses, right?

Apparently not.  Far too many win-at-all-costs fans and Wade apologists in the media refused to acknowledge what was starting them right in the face.  Too many still are.  Amazingly, even after Wade's reinstatement as head coach this week, after he finally did meet with Alleva, Alexander, and NCAA investigators, it was Alleva, not Wade, who remained in the crosshairs.

Whether Alleva had enough of the nonsense or the Board of Regents and powerful boosters forced him out, the now-former athletic director called it quits on Wednesday.  Frankly, it's hard to blame him.  

Last week I heard multiple people, those who are well known to the LSU fan base, make public statements about how they didn't care about Wade's insubordination, nor his compromised recruiting tactics.  Worse, they advocated for Wade's cheating and a win-at-all-costs strategy.  That's not hyperbole, that's a near-direct quote I heard far too many times in the past month.

"I don't care that my coach cheats.  In fact, I want him to cheat," said one person last week.

"This is LSU.  It should be a win-at-all-costs mentality there," replied another.

What a sad encapsulation and commentary on our society's level of ethical blindness when it comes to the teams, programs, players, and coaches we root for.  There's almost no line that's too far to cross anymore.  We treat our sports icons like gods to be worshiped, rather than men and women who bear the responsibilities of being public faces of the institutions and cities they represent.  

That brings me, once again, to why this whole saga so disturbs me. 

We watched aghast from afar as fan bases and local media rallied behind coaches who broke rules, recruited illegally, helped commit academic fraud, supported pay-for-play schemes, organized ponzi schemes, engaged in organized sex parties, and even covered up domestic violence, molestation, and rape. Some of those cases are certainly much worse than anything Wade is accused of at LSU, but the response from far too many Tiger fans has been eerily similar to the reaction at all of those fan bases: apathy or outright dismissal of any wrongdoing because the program was winning.  

Perhaps I was naive enough to believe more rational dialogue would follow anything that would inevitably happen at LSU.  I held out hope that proud LSU alumni and donors would see the indelible stains such a scandal would leave on the program and university and their reaction would be different.  I was wrong.  Very wrong.  

Now we watch as Alleva is reportedly being forced out due to deep-pocketed donors who are disgruntled that Wade was reprimanded at all.  There was a very strong case not long ago that the totality of Alleva's record at LSU would warrant his removal.  Heck, it probably still does.  The question must be asked, however, is why now? If the real reason Alleva is stepping down (see: forced out) was his entire track record, then why wasn't this move made long before Wade was suspended.  Why wasn't it made directly after the suspension?  Can we just cut the stupidity of acting like the decision today was made without regard to Alleva's actions with Wade?  

There's no doubt some very influential boosters were unabashedly pro-Wade during this saga.  It's unthinkable that the university and athletic department has decided to export their morality to those people.  Or perhaps they also exported their morality to the very loud "Free Will Wade" mob.  In either case, it's a terrible look for an institution that has seemed above this drabble for so long.  Now, they're stuck in the middle of it.

So many current and future LSU students have watched this play out.  Young boys and girls, future sports stars, lawyers, doctors, stock brokers, teachers, business leaders, and coaches.  The clear message they've been given by the adults making decisions at LSU is that cheating is okay.  It's acceptable to bend and break the rules to better yourself and those around you.  Worst of all, it's been reinforced yet again that winning is the only thing that matters.  Moral compass and sense of right vs wrong be damned. As long as there's a few more wins and more money along the path of ethical destruction, you shouldn't care.

What a terrible lesson for our youth.  What a terrible lesson for us all.  

It's past time for the NCAA to revise its rules and policies on student-athlete compensation, or at least their ability to use their own likeness for profit.  That doesn't excuse the blatant rule-breaking that so many coaches across the country are accused to be involved in.  The rules are on paper so that programs are competing on a level playing field.  If we don't like those rules, then advocate for change.  Don't advocate for cheating.

And what about Wade's refusal to meet with his bosses?  Is the message that the "Free Will Wade" crowd wanted to send is successful coaches shouldn't have to answer to anybody?  Too many people believe successful coaches should be rewarded with a blank check to act, or act out, in any way they desire with no repercussions.

Eventually a scandal will emerge at Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M, Ohio State or whatever other program.  Or perhaps another much-less-beloved LSU coach will decide they don't want to meet with their bosses, regardless of the merits of that request.  How many LSU fans, boosters, and alumni will come calling with pleas for justice then?  If you've sacrificed your moral compass here, don't come begging to reclaim it.  

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