If you put 100 people in a room and you asked them, “Would you rather be a Vanderbilt basketball fan or an LSU basketball fan today?”, I bet there would be a few people who would say, “Yes, I would rather have Bryce Drew representing my school than that grifter, Will Wade.”
By Matt Zemek
Plenty of people couldn’t stand Will Wade from the beginning. Now they quite understandably and reasonably feel vindicated. You would get some people in that room of 100 who would prefer to be in Vanderbilt’s position as opposed to LSU’s.
However, I do think that a majority of those 100 people would choose to be in LSU’s spot. They wouldn’t so much overlook the likelihood of cheating as they would say something akin to this:
“These kinds of problems are pervasive and rampant in the sport. I don’t like that we’re part of this, but this is a messy industry, and hardly anyone is pure as the driven snow. I don’t feel uniquely dirty. I’m not happily proud or blissfully unconcerned in response to what has happened, but I’m not going to take on added or undue shame, either.”
The people who would choose LSU’s position over Vanderbilt’s would also use the “North Carolina argument.”
North Carolina is an esteemed university with a well-developed reputation. It plainly, however, chased basketball glory… and didn’t get punished for it. It fought the NCAA… and not only didn’t suffer EXTREME consequences, but hardly any consequences at all at the program (men’s basketball) it values the most.
You will find plenty of LSU fans — and I am not here to judge them, either — who are perfectly reasonable and logical in saying that LSU should be a lot more combative and less accommodating toward the NCAA in the Will Wade situation. Keep the coach. Pursue a Final Four. Then sort out the mess, betting that Wade’s status can be preserved unless it can be determined that the truth is appreciably worse than the speculation.
Forget sports for a moment. Look at Virginia politics, where the governor and lieutenant governor both encountered significant scandals and lived in a firestorm for 100 to 150 hours but appeared to have survived, at least for now. As you might have noticed, wrongdoing in a complicated and cutthroat world doesn’t easily lead to resignations, structural transformations, or conversions of heart and soul. This is not a good thing, but purely as a matter of political hardball, this larger reality is precisely what reinforces the view among LSU fans that the NCAA can go *bleep* itself, and that the athletic department should focus on winning basketball fans. It is not an irrational position.
This doesn’t mean I agree with it or approve of it, but I certainly can understand it and — again — would guess that if you put 100 people in a room, most would choose LSU’s No. 1 seed at the SEC Tournament over Vanderbilt’s No. 14 seed and 0-18 SEC record.
I don’t want you to easily and automatically think that since Bryce Drew isn’t Will Wade, he is obviously the better coach and the better choice for a university to have made as its head basketball coach. I want you to truly wrestle with this question — not assuming that LSU’s wins make all of the Tigers’ problems irrelevant, but also not presuming that having wholesome but unsuccessful sports coaches should be tolerated without much resistance.
This is complicated stuff on the eve of the SEC Tournament. Vanderbilt is at the bottom of the SEC and LSU at the top… but maybe not in the ways we have previously considered.