The NCAA infractions process has for the past generation been consistently slow and generally perceived as impotent. And that's what makes the latest notice of allegations to emerge from the federal basketball cases so noteworthy.
The LSU men's basketball program compiled seven Level I violations and a Level II violation in a notice of allegations obtained by ESPN on Saturday, and includes allegations that are extensive, detailed and portray brazen attempts by coach Will Wade and his staff to break the rules. The notice alleges that Wade cheated even after knowing he'd be in the crosshairs when the federal basketball investigation came to light in 2017.
LSU fired Wade and associate head coach Bill Armstrong on Saturday.
The notice of allegations reads like the script to a "Blue Chips" sequel, with the totality of the 17-page document of allegations painting Wade as a bumbling, lying and sloppy cheater who left troves of receipts. There's the "strong-ass offer" wiretap, Wade seemingly admitting to hush payments via text, and an allegation of a $300,000 cash payment by an assistant coach. There are allegations of a car for a cousin, an Instagram photo of an illicit recruiting meeting, a scholarship for a recruit's friend, help obtaining a visa, and impermissible academic assistance. There's a charge that Wade made payments to a recruit via a joint bank account in the name of Wade's spouse, sent text messages to Wade's wife that contradict what he told investigators, and in general a persistent defiance in cooperating with the investigation.
Though Wade was dismissed Saturday, this saga is far from Wade's mess alone, and it is also far from over for LSU. There are implications for the basketball program, football program, the athletic department and the university, as well as for the other schools that remain under investigation for findings made as part of the FBI probe.
How did we get here, and what happens next for those parties? We explored the timeline and potential fallout.
1. Why did LSU wait so long to fire Wade?
It was March 8, 2019, when LSU suspended Wade for the team's final regular-season game, SEC and NCAA tournaments, a suspension handed down in the wake of a Yahoo Sports story detailing a 2017 wiretap call between Wade and basketball middleman Christian Dawkins in which Wade expressed frustration with the recruitment of Javonte Smart. The NCAA alleges that Wade violated its rules by offering cash payments and job offers in order to land Smart. Audio of the wiretap call was later aired during an HBO documentary about Dawkins.
LSU suspended Wade for five weeks after he refused to meet with university officials about the alleged recruiting irregularities, but the school's actions between that suspension and Saturday were puzzling.
The school reinstated Wade five weeks later -- after he agreed to talk with LSU and NCAA investigators -- and from that point on paid him nearly $7.35 million to continue coaching. LSU did rewrite Wade's contract to make it easier to fire him but then waited nearly three years to do it. In a restructured contract, Wade forfeited $250,000 in performance bonuses he had earned in the 2018-19 season and agreed the school could fire him with cause -- and not pay him anything in severance -- if he was accused of a Level I or Level II violation. He also agreed not to sue the university if he were fired for cause.
Smart continued to play and would become a three-year starter for the Tigers.
Was there a hope that everything would go away in the three-year interim? Did LSU not have access to all the information that came to light Saturday? Experts say that's unlikely. The NCAA process allowed LSU's lawyers to sit in on NCAA interviews held with LSU employees, so there couldn't have been any big surprises to LSU officials.
"LSU had access to everything," said a source, speaking generally about how information gathering works in these cases. "It would be very surprising to me if LSU was not aware of the substance of what the Complex Case Unit is relying upon throughout the investigation."
2. What will be the ramifications for LSU and its basketball program?
The fact that the university stood behind its embattled coach for so long, despite some of the most serious allegations being reported in the media, probably won't sit well with members of an Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP) hearing panel that will ultimately decide punishment for LSU and Wade. There are no appeals in the IARP process. Its decisions are final.
"Taken as a whole, the institution's conduct shows a lack of oversight by the leadership of the institution's athletics programs and demonstrated that the institution's leadership lacked sufficient knowledge about the content and operation of the compliance program in the men's basketball program," reads the "lack of institutional control" allegation within the notice of allegations.
The NCAA rarely issues multiyear postseason bans. The most recent prominent one was handed down to Ole Miss football back in 2017. But LSU basketball would seemingly be in the crosshairs for such a penalty.
What factors will determine the severity of the penalty? Well, you'll have to dive into some heavy NCAA legalese for clues. A source familiar with NCAA cases said that the severity of punishment will come down to "aggravating, standard and mitigating factors" among the violations.
It's worth noting that there are seven aggravating factors listed in the notice of allegations, an unusually high amount. The seven aggravating factors include: multiple violations, history of violations, lack of institutional control, persons of authority negligently disregarding the violation, ineligibility or significant harm to student-athlete, pattern of non-compliance and an intentional, willful or blatant disregard for the NCAA constitution and bylaws.
The eight Level I violations also represent a high amount. Reports from the initial notice in Kansas' case, for example, was five, which was considered to be a high number by longtime NCAA observers.
The addition of three football allegations -- a Level I, Level II and Level III -- also looms over LSU's athletic department. (LSU has attempted to mitigate those through a self-imposed bowl ban and scholarship reductions.)
There's a counterpoint to all this, and it's something that arose in the NC State decision, when an IARP member was quoted about the Wolfpack not getting a postseason ban: "We didn't want to hurt or punish the student-athletes who were currently competing," IARP member Dana Welch said.
The new NCAA constitution also includes a push to punish rule violators more than "programs or student-athletes innocent of the infraction."
If LSU basketball fans want hope, it's rooted in that notion.
3. Will Wade ever coach again?
It's hard to say definitively that he won't. Auburn hired Bruce Pearl despite the seeming scarlet letter of an NCAA show-cause penalty, and its program has thrived with Pearl in charge (while also failing to avoid NCAA scrutiny). Rick Pitino was hired by Iona and coached in the NCAA tournament last season despite a scandal at Louisville that included allegations of recruiting impropriety. Former Arizona coach Sean Miller, a central figure in the FBI probe who is still awaiting a potential NCAA penalty, has been mentioned in reports (including ESPN reports) as a potential candidate for Division I head-coaching jobs during the current hiring cycle. Former Baylor coach Dave Bliss, who was accused of providing impermissible benefits and trying to cover up the murder of one of his players by another player, eventually went on to coach at an NAIA school.
All of that said, given the severity of the allegations and number of alleged rules violations, it's difficult to imagine Wade coaching at a Division I school anytime soon.
Anyone who hires Wade will have to answer for the catalog of alleged violations detailed above, as well as a failure to monitor his staff and promote an atmosphere of compliance. It should also be noted that in two of the Level I allegations, Wade's alleged actions took place after the federal government arrested 10 people, including four college basketball assistant coaches, in September 2017 as part of a far-reaching investigation into bribes and other corruption in the sport.
In the notice of allegations, the Complex Case Unit wrote that it believed that an IARP hearing panel could enter a show-cause order against him in four of the five Level I charges.
4. What do the allegations and fallout mean for other programs facing NCAA scrutiny?
Not much. Most of the schools that had coaches involved in the federal government's investigation have already had their cases adjudicated by the NCAA or IARP, or they have already been issued a notice of allegation and are awaiting hearings.
Three schools -- Arizona, Kansas and Louisville -- are still in the process of learning their fates from the IARP; decisions are expected to come sometime this summer. NC State was placed on one year of probation and former coach Mark Gottfried was given a one-year show cause in December.
Auburn, which had its case adjudicated through the traditional path of the Committee on Infractions, was placed on four years' probation and Pearl was suspended for two games.
Cases involving Alabama, Creighton, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, TCU and USC have been finalized as well.
The notice of allegations issued to LSU on Saturday comes from the Complex Case Unit of the IARP, which is handling the investigation into LSU football and basketball for the NCAA. (That new level of jargon somehow took a slow process and managed to make it slower.)
5. What's next for LSU?
Recruiting a new men's basketball coach will be a challenge -- even with LSU's vast resources and history of high-profile hires -- as will trying to construct a roster in this environment. The estimated timetable for a decision from the IARP is about eight months, meaning the next coach will come to LSU knowing that some type of NCAA punishment looms, likely including scholarship restrictions.
LSU's three leading scorers are a pair of seniors and a sophomore, Tari Eason, who is expected to declare for the NBA draft. The future of players including freshman guard Brandon Murray, sophomore guard Eric Gaines and freshman center Efton Reid will also be in flux because of the coaching turnover and potential of penalties. The ability to transfer without penalty and the lure of name, image and likeness benefits at other schools could provide a pull to the NCAA transfer portal.
The industry belief, considering athletic director Scott Woodward's history, is that he'll aim for a big name. His three football hires as an athletic director -- Chris Petersen at Washington, Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M and Brian Kelly at LSU -- show that he covets proven winners. He also hired Buzz Williams in basketball at A&M and Kim Mulkey for women's basketball at LSU.
Think the archetype of a proven winner such as Kelvin Sampson (Houston), Dana Altman (Oregon), A&M's Williams, Chris Holtmann (Ohio State) or Brad Underwood (Illinois).
But any of those hires would require a heavy financial commitment, creativity and protection for the candidate, perhaps with guaranteed years added for every year of probation.