What is right? What is wrong? Human beings have been wrestling with this question since they first existed, even if they didn’t have the actual words in their minds. The idea, the substance, of the question has always hovered in our consciousness as moral and emotional beings.
It is perfectly understandable to view the Will Wade situation at LSU in various ways. Let’s not pretend this is an easy situation to evaluate, or that only one answer is either relevant or profoundly wise. Morality, self-interest, and public benefit — all things an athletic department and an athletic director (Joe Alleva of LSU) must weigh in various circumstances — do not create a simple landscape.
Competing points of view have their place in this discussion.
Let’s lay out the basic tension points.
Start with the decision LSU made, and the decision LSU must consider: LSU decided to suspend Will Wade indefinitely. Many people in the college basketball industry think this has set in motion a course of events which will lead to Wade’s dismissal after reports indicated that he made an offer to middleman Christian Dawkins about a recruit. There is good reason to reinforce this view: The wiretapped conversation has not yet been disputed.
The natural point of comparison with Wade is the University of Arizona and head coach Sean Miller. It was reported a year ago, roughly at this same point in the season, that there was evidence of Miller being caught on tape. That evidence was never fully established or nailed down, but it remains that Miller was not allowed to coach a game late in Arizona’s regular season before being allowed back onto the bench following several highly volatile, uncertain and nervous days in Tucson, with university administrators and boosters wrestling with the fate of the coach and the long-term direction of the program. ESPN’s reporting — a year later — has not yet been confirmed or substantiated. This is why reporter Mark Schlabach has acquired a noticeably lower profile, since he was the one who pushed ESPN’s reporting on Miller.
A central question LSU leaders have to ask is if Wade can be trusted, if indeed he disputes any claims about what he said. Sean Miller was able to survive the past year, but one wonders if a new revelation is about to sink him. LSU might not be in the exact same position as Arizona, but the larger fundamental reality is similar enough to appreciate from a distance. LSU is currently in a process of fact-finding. Alleva, as the athletic director, has to gain a complete understanding of the situation — as complete as humanly possible — and consult with university leaders and Wade. What LSU decision-makers gather from their internal inquiries needs to be solid and reliable, the kind of information which won’t be reopened a year from now if the program decides to stand by Wade much as Arizona stood by Miller.
If Miller is about to go down at Arizona due to a fresh and damning revelation in the coming weeks or months, this would change the calculus for LSU with Wade. No one needs to explain that.
The true complexity of this problem comes from this point: What if Miller doesn’t get pushed out, even while not being fully cleared? What if that limbo-like circumstance persists?
When talking about “the right thing to do,” many of us who follow college sports and college basketball in particular are impressed that LSU was willing to suspend Wade, even if only for a brief period of time. LSU is the No. 1 seed at the SEC Tournament and about to get a top-three seed at the NCAA Tournament. When a program has a Final Four in its sights, it is easy to stonewall the NCAA or maintain tunnel vision and try to reach college basketball’s Holy Grail. Just pursue the glory this next month and worry about the future later. Final Four chances don’t come along every year at LSU.
Clearly, a lot of people would say that LSU did “the right thing” here.
Yet, I can just as easily understand a worldview and argument which say that LSU did the wrong thing.
LSU’s community of fans — people for whom a Final Four would be a big deal — would be deprived of a unique opportunity to go to Minneapolis in early April. LSU players who didn’t do anything wrong would be punished. Their parents and friends would also feel the sting of the program’s erosion and hardship. Bailing on Will Wade could be viewed as LSU not standing up for itself and for the ability to achieve everything it wants to achieve.
Look at North Carolina.
The Tar Heels took a confrontational approach toward the NCAA instead of an accommodating one.
Can anyone say this was “the wrong thing to do” PURELY from a standpoint of self-interest and material gain?
It might have been wrong as a matter of ethics or principle — one can debate that all day long — but North Carolina men’s basketball escaped punishment and is pursuing another Final Four berth of its own this March. Resisting the NCAA paid off handsomely. This forms the basis for a perfectly acceptable — if debatable — argument that LSU needed to dig in its heels instead of suspending Will Wade.
What is right? What is wrong? The answers depend on what you think and where you come from… and they certainly aren’t as easy to resolve as one might first think in the ongoing story of Will Wade at LSU.