LSU fans in recent weeks have turned heavily on ESPN’s lead college basketball color analyst Dick Vitale, who has conducted an on-air and Twitter campaign attacking Will Wade for what’s on transcripts of FBI wiretaps in which Wade is seen to be intimating offers of inducements violating NCAA rules with the respect to the recruitment of Javonte Smart.
Monday morning, Vitale appeared on Off The Bench, the morning sports talk show starring Jordy Culotta and T-Bob Hebert on 104.5 ESPN Radio in Baton Rouge, and caught a little of that backlash. Culotta peppered Vitale with a series of questions probing the, shall we say, inconsistencies of his positions on Wade’s fall from grace vis-a-vis his treatment of other coaches and his suggestion that college athletes be paid.
The interview goes 21 minutes. Commentary below…
A few observations…
- Vitale repeatedly demands that Wade’s defenders – or, more accurately, critics of Vitale’s position – “listen to the tape.” But throughout the interview when Culotta and Hebert attempt to point out that no tape of Wade’s comments on that FBI wiretap has been made public, Vitale falls into a blustery filibuster which is unresponsive and clearly designed to deflect. What he refuses to deal with is that nobody outside of the principals in the Adidas trial has heard the FBI wiretap tapes, of Wade or any of the other coaches on it, and therefore context of what’s been released on them is lacking. Wade’s position, in the few public statements he’s made during his suspension, is that when all the facts are out the snippets of him discussing Smart’s recruitment will be perceived differently. While that position may be a shaky one from a persuasive standpoint, without more to go on than a sensationalized Yahoo! Sports report containing a small portion of a phone conversation and little context therein, simple fairness would seem to argue against the kind of condemnation Vitale has engaged in.
- Especially given the overall context of Wade’s part in a much larger scandal. Culotta and Hebert brought up the fact that dozens of college basketball programs have been tainted by the Adidas case, and specifically challenged Vitale on Bill Self, Sean Miller and Rick Pitino – all of whom are implicated in NCAA violations as serious or more serious as that involving Wade based on released snippets of transcripts. Self’s text messages discussing payments to recruits, together with assistant coach Curtis Townsend’s wiretaps discussing benefits offered to Zion Williamson, implicate Kansas as a thorough evildoer. Miller was caught on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to DeAndre Ayton. And Pitino was fired at Louisville over the Brian Bowen mess. But Vitale’s position somehow is that there’s more evidence Wade cheated than there is of Self, Miller and Pitino doing so, and that is nonsense.
- And then there is Vitale’s exhortation that players get paid. Which is fine – our position for some time has been that the NCAA’s rules reflect a fantasyland ideal of “amateurism” which hasn’t reflected reality in decades, if ever, and he’s not wrong in suggesting players ought to be able to get paid for doing appearances and speaking engagements and the like. We’re fine with that. But if he thinks the NCAA’s rules are unjust, and if he’s clearly looking the other way when some of the bluebloods of the college game are breaking them (Vitale’s reaction to Culotta’s question about how much Williamson is getting paid by Duke is a classic run-and-hide), then his outrage over Wade’s appearance on those transcripts rings pretty hollow.
Hopefully this interview gets wide play, because it lays bare the hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance of the status quo in college basketball Vitale is attempting to preserve with his bluster and nonstop jabbering.
There is some talk that the Dawkins case, by the way, will be dismissed this week. If so, Wade’s subpoena in that trial will dissipate and things will come to a head soon. We can be sure, though, that nothing which happens where Wade’s situation is concerned will be made sense of by anything Dick Vitale says.