A Ropes & Gray litigation team, led by litigation & enforcement partner Michael McGovern, recently secured a major victory in an NCAA-affiliated enforcement proceeding on behalf of coach Will Wade, the former Louisiana State University (LSU) head men’s basketball coach. Coach Wade faced a potential lifetime ban from coaching in the NCAA owing to allegations he offered prospective student-athletes illicit cash payments to secure their commitments to LSU.
In September 2017, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) announced the arrest of 10 individuals associated with NCAA Division I men’s basketball for their roles in two interrelated fraudulent schemes. Specifically, the criminal conspiracy involved (i) bribing high-school recruits (and their families) to enroll in certain universities sponsored by the major athletic apparel company; and (ii) bribing coaches to direct their student-athletes to retain the services of certain business managers and financial advisors.
While LSU was never implicated in conspiracy, LSU and Coach Wade, as well as nearly every other major college basketball program, came under intense scrutiny by the Department of Justice and the NCAA in the wake of SNDY’s investigation, ultimately resulting in Coach Wade being charged with multiple violations of NCAA bylaws.
However, after lengthy briefing and a three-day hearing at which Coach Wade appeared and testified, the panel overseeing the matter unanimously concluded that the most serious of allegations—that Coach Wade paid recruits to commit to LSU—were without merit. Accordingly, Coach Wade avoided a lifetime ban from coaching in the NCAA and, instead, received only a 10-game suspension as well as some temporary limited, recruiting restrictions in connection with violations of other NCAA bylaws relating to, among other things, reporting obligations and the timely production of records.
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