Almost four years ago, the FBI dropped a bomb on college basketball. It turned out to be more like a janky firecracker.
“We have your playbook,” said New York FBI Assistant Director in Charge William Sweeney. “Our investigation is ongoing, and we are conducting additional interviews as we speak.”
Four years later, and two of the head coaches that were at the center of the scandal are thriving, as both Rick Pitino (Iona) and Will Wade’s (LSU) squads are two of the hottest teams in the country heading into this week’s NCAA Tournament. That playbook the FBI claimed they found wound up being empty.
Pitino was fired from Louisville in 2017 after fallout from the feds’ investigation that led to the arrest of 10 people accused of corruption and taking bribes. It’s believed that Pitino gave the go-ahead for one of his assistants to send $100,000 to the father of Brian Bowen, a five-star recruit who committed to the Cardinals seemingly out of nowhere. Pitino claimed his innocence, went over to Greece to coach professionals, and was hired last year to lead Iona’s program.
Louisville is not in the NCAA Tournament this year, but Pitino is. He now joins Tubby Smith and Lon Kruger as the only coaches to ever lead five schools into March Madness.
But while Pitino may have a larger profile because his departure from Louisville was directly tied to the FBI’s investigation, Wade is the coach that epitomizes the hypocrisy of the entire situation. Last year, an HBO documentary called The Scheme featured unreleased wiretap logs from the federal probe, in which Wade was heard with middleman Christian Dawkins discussing player payments. Last year, CBS Sports transcribed part of the audio from a call that took place in 2017.
WADE: Hopefully (Jaron) Blossom game’s not blowing you up too much right now.
DAWKINS: Well listen, I mean [expletive], he could be playing for LSU or some [expletive]. He could have fifth-year eligibility and if he doesn’t get drafted like Randolph Morris or some [expletive] like that.
WADE: We’ll take that. We’ll take it.
DAWKINS: I know you will. I know you will.
WADE: We could compensate him better than the rookie minimum.
DAWKINS (laughing): You probably right about that, too.
WADE: We’d give him more than the D-League.
DAWKINS: Exactly. Exactly. God bless us all. God bless us all. So, what’s the good word, though?
WADE: All right I was thinking last night on this Smart thing. Like, I’ll be honest with you, I’m [expletive] tired of dealing with the thing. Like I’m just [expletive] sick of dealing with this [expletive]. What do you think, ‘cause I went to him with a [expletive] strong-ass offer about a month ago. [Expletive] strong. Now, the problem was, I know why he didn’t take it now — it was [expletive] tilted toward the family a little bit. But I mean it was a [expletive] hell of a [expletive] offer. Like, hell of an offer. Especially for a kid who’s going to be a two- or three-year kid.
WADE: I’ve made deals for as good a players as him that were [expletive] a lot simpler than this.
But wait, there’s more. After the documentary came out, LSU suspended Wade because of it and wanted to talk to him about it. Wade then doubled-down and refused to talk to his bosses until the investigation was over. The bold decision worked, as Wade still has a job.
“100 percent talking about money,” Dawkins said about Wade in the documentary. “Just audacity, you gotta take your hat off to him, man. He, not only didn’t get charged for anything, not only did the government have all this information and evidence and nothing was happening on a criminal level, he also basically just said [expletive] you to the NCAA and to the university he worked for. Man, that was some G [expletive]. And he said [expletive] you to the people that wasn’t with him and he still got to keep his job and make millions of dollars. It’s like the perfect storm. This is the life. [Expletive], they’re paying him a lot money to win games, bro. … Will Wade is definitely a [expletive] gangster for what he did.”
The law enforcement agency that’s supposed to catch actual gangsters couldn’t even nail Rick Pitino and Will Wade, despite having paper trails and wiretaps. All that work and energy wasted on trying to catch basketball coaches that were attempting to make sure their workforce got compensated.
So, the next time a “recruiting scandal” goes down, I want you to stop and take a moment to remember how the FBI flubbed this case, and ask yourself who the real criminal is in this situation.
Here’s a hint. It’s neither the player nor the coach.