The drumbeat of bad news, Days said, has been so persistent — including reporting by USA Today on a sexual assault by a football player that was largely covered up by administrators and disturbing behavior by the former football coach Les Miles around women — that the players were given T-shirts earlier this season stamped with a mantra: “L.S.U. vs. The World.”
Wade, too, seemed to relish that outlook.
Young and brazen, Wade had awakened a sleeping fan base by his second season when he led a roster with young N.B.A. prospects to the Southeastern Conference regular-season title. “He’d always say ‘what’s up’ to the student section,” said Mason Lobner, a sophomore who held up a “Win For Wade” sign on Friday night.
Still, there did not seem to be much more enthusiasm for the Tigers, whose seating section was dotted with players’ friends and families, and few others.
When Wade was suspended in 2019, it outraged some fans, who booed then-Athletic Director Joe Alleva and then-President F. King Alexander, chanting “Free Will Wade” as the Tigers made their way to a regional semifinal without their coach.
“Free Will Wade from what?” Alexander said in a phone interview Friday night.
Alexander, the school president until the end of 2020, said that when Wade and his lawyers finally did agree to a meeting, he denied any wrongdoing and L.S.U. had no proof to corroborate the news report.
“You need evidence to ruin somebody’s career,” Alexander said. “If we had fired Will Wade because of what was leaked to Yahoo, then we’d pay him” the remaining $10 million or more on his contract. “And if nothing comes out, he can sue us for ruining his career,” Alexander continued. “Presidents have to follow due process rights. Was he paying players? In my gut, I’d say, yeah, but my gut doesn’t do very well in a jury trial.”
Alexander said that when he agreed to lift the suspension after five weeks, in mid-April in 2019, he had expected that within weeks, as the last corruption case was reaching its conclusion in federal court, the federal government would turn over whatever evidence it had on Wade to the N.C.A.A., which had been told to wait until the trial was over to begin its own investigation.