LSU wins outright SEC title that Tiger fans celebrated even though it'll probably be vacated

Three mornings ago, before Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel published the transcript of a wiretapped conversation that forever changed how this LSU season will unfold and be remembered, things were actually great in Baton Rouge. The Tigers were coming off of an OT win at Florida that pushed their SEC record to 15-2 and made it where they only needed to beat a winless-in-the-league Vanderbilt team on Saturday to secure their first conference championship in a decade. So Saturday figured to be awesome.

Instead, it was just awkward.

LSU beat Vanderbilt 80-59 on Saturday to become the outright champion of a conference that had four schools ranked in the top 20 of the preseason Associated Press poll -- none of which were LSU. In a vacuum, it's an amazing accomplishment. In a vacuum, Will Wade should be the SEC's Coach of the Year.

But we're not in a vacuum anymore.

We're in a scandal.

As you probably know, Wade was reportedly caught on a wiretap in June 2017 discussing a pay-for-play scheme for Class of 2018 prospect Javonte Smart, who committed to the Tigers less than a month after the conversation with Christian Dawkins, an aspiring agent who is now a convicted felon, took place. According to the report, Wade is expressing frustration to Dawkins that a third-party representative hasn't accepted his "strong-ass offer" for Smart -- presumably because the deal was, according to Wade on the wiretap, "tilted toward taking care of the mom, taking care of the kid" as opposed to taking care of the third-party representative who wasn't, according to Wade on the wiretap, getting "enough of the piece of the pie."

This all came out early Thursday.

Then, a few hours later, ESPN's Mark Schlabach reported that Wade was caught by wiretap on another call telling Dawkins that he'd done deals for "as good of players as [Smart]" that were "a lot simpler than this." And, according to ESPN, Wade also joked that the deal was worth more than the NBA's "rookie minimum."

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LSU fans sent a message as they celebrated the SEC regular-season title. USATSI

Unsurprisingly, LSU suspended Wade on Friday.

Tony Benford is the interim coach. And though it's only fair to note that Wade has said what's reportedly on the wiretap does not "begin to tell the whole story," it's also important to note that Wade has declined to explain the wiretap to his bosses, which is what LSU officials said triggered the suspension. For what it's worth, I'm willing to hear Wade out when he decides to talk because I have known him for a long time, like him on a personal level and fundamentally believe everybody deserves a chance to tell their story. But after reading what Wade reportedly said to Dawkins, and combining it with a basic understanding of how high-level recruitments sometimes go, I cannot think of a single explanation Wade could provide that would make anybody other than the delusional LSU fans who spent this weekend chanting "Free Will Wade" think those wiretap transcripts represent anything other than what they appear to represent.

That's the truth.

But will the NCAA ever prove it? I have no idea.

I suppose there's a scenario where Will Wade denies ever breaking an NCAA rule, and everybody on the Javonte Smart side of things denies ever breaking an NCAA rule, and it's a cash transaction for which there is no paper trail, and the NCAA gets nowhere. Wouldn't be the first time. But if the reports are true that Wade wasn't forthcoming with his administration back in October when it was first reported that he was caught on a wiretap discussing a possible deal for a completely different prospect, it's hard to imagine LSU doing anything other than terminating him for cause just as soon as its lawyers sign off on it.

Either way, what a weird Saturday night.

There's at least a decent chance, if not a great chance, LSU will eventually vacate this SEC regular-season championship -- and everybody inside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center with a brain understood as much. Regardless, they were mostly cheering like crazy and celebrating as if what I just typed isn't true. Emmitt Williams jumped in front of an SEC Network camera and shouted out Wade and Smart -- the latter of whom actually climbed a ladder and cut the net even though he might never play for LSU again because, you know, he might be the reason all of this is eventually vacated.

So awkward.

To be clear, if it happens, this will not be the first time a good team vacated a great season. But what makes this different is that we usually don't realize there's a possibility of a good team vacating a great season RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GREAT SEASON. We didn't know Louisville would have to vacate a national title because of stripper parties until well after Louisville won the national title. We didn't know Memphis would have to vacate a Final Four because of Derrick Rose's fraudulent standardized test score until well after Memphis advanced to the Final Four. So Louisville and Memphis fans, oblivious to what was on the way, could celebrate normally.

But this is different.

LSU fans, at least the smart ones, had to know what's likely on the way when they walked into that arena Saturday night. And yet, right or wrong, understandably or embarrassingly, they, for the most part, didn't seem to care -- which made for one of the strangest net-cutting ceremonies in college basketball history.

The head coach wasn't there.

He might be fired soon.

And the likelihood of any of this surviving an official letter of inquiry from the NCAA seems not great. But whatever. Congrats, LSU, you're outright SEC champions! It's probably, at least partly, the result of a "strong-ass offer" that was eventually accepted in violation of NCAA rules. But why worry about that now when you can instead just celebrate and boo your athletic director who had nothing to do with nothing?

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Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

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