NCAA troubled by UNC criticism of handling of Walker waiver, says committee members received threats

North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Mack Brown, left, and Appalachian State Mountaineers head coach Shawn Clark talk at mid field before an NCAA football game, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Chapel Hill, N.C. (AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

The NCAA Board of Directors said Tuesday it was “troubled” by North Carolina's public criticism of the decision to deny an eligibility waiver to Tar Heels transfer receiver Tez Walker, adding that some committee members have received threats of violence.

The statement comes less than a week after North Carolina said the NCAA had denied appeal efforts for immediate eligibility for Walker, an announcement that included pointed criticism from both Tar Heels coach Mack Brown and athletic director Bubba Cunningham.

In his statement, Brown said he had “lost all faith” in the NCAA’s ability to govern college football, then ended by saying: “Shame on you, NCAA. SHAME ON YOU!”

“Those comments directly contradict what we and our fellow Division I members and coaches called for vociferously – including UNC’s own football coach,” said the statement from Georgia President Jere Morehead, the DI board chairman, and Evansville president Christopher Pietruszkiewicz, the vice chairman. "We are a membership organization, and rather than pursue a public relations campaign that can contribute to a charged environment for our peers who volunteer on committees, we encourage members to use established and agreed upon procedures to voice concerns and propose and adopt rule or policy changes if they are dissatisfied.”

The NCAA said its national office in Indianapolis was coordinating with law enforcement to deal with possibly criminal threats against committee members. NCAA regulatory committees are comprised of administrators from the association's more than 1,100 member schools.

NCAA rules allow players to transfer without sitting out a year once while they are undergraduates. Because Walker has transferred twice, he needed a waiver to play this season.

Brown has said Walker had struggled emotionally both amid the uncertainty of his status in recent weeks and now after the final denial. On Monday, Brown attended an emergency meeting of the school's board of trustees and he said would discuss options for how the school could support Walker.

“I was so disappointed and surprised in the vote with a (NCAA) committee, that they voted down his ability to come back and play," Brown said afterward. "I think it’s awful. I think it’s very poor. It’s not fair. There was a path for him to be eligible, without question.”

Walker enrolled at North Carolina Central before ending up at Kent State. The Eagles didn’t play football because of the COVID-19 pandemic during Walker’s time at North Carolina Central, so he has played two seasons at Kent State. Walker enrolled at UNC in January days before a rule change that restricted free movement by two-time transfers while applying a case-by-case evaluation.

The NCAA announced in January it was tightening the waiver process, two years after transfer rules were changed to allow all athletes to switch schools one time as an undergraduate without sitting out a season.

The DI Board board said of 21,685 athletes who entered the transfer portal this year most were first-time transfers who are now immediately eligible to compete at their new schools, which was the intent of the transfer rule change. Of those who entered the portal, 3% are multiple-time transfers who would require a waiver to compete immediately for this academic year if enrolled at a new school.

"The Division I Board of Directors believes that NCAA staff and the committee are applying transfer waiver guidelines as intended by member schools and giving proper and full consideration to individual cases, including consulting a panel of licensed mental health experts for cases in which mental health is cited as a reason for transfer," the board said. “These new guidelines were supported unanimously by all 32 Division I conferences in January, and prior to that were widely supported by member schools and coaches associations.”

Still, the NCAA’s stance has drawn criticism, including during the ABC national broadcast of UNC’s opener and even from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

Walker was expected to be one of the Tar Heels' top receivers this season, a key addition to a team with star quarterback Drake Maye. No. 20 North Carolina (2-0) faces Minnesota (2-0) at home Saturday.


AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed


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