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Heels’ Walker must sit opener; Brown slams delay

North Carolina wide receiver Tez Walker will not play against South Carolina on Saturday, as the Tar Heels await an NCAA ruling on his eligibility for this season.

The school expects the committee to review his case next week as the process continues.

Last month, the NCAA denied Walker’s waiver to play immediately as a two-time transfer, and the school appealed the decision. The appeal was also denied, so now his case will be heard by a committee of representatives from Division I schools. The committee will make a decision and present it to the NCAA.

On social media later Friday, Walker posted a letter he addressed to NCAA president Charlie Baker, in which he asks him for help to be able to play.

“Please, review my situation so I can achieve my dream as a student-athlete,” Walker said. “Isn’t that what the NCAA is supposed to do? Help student athletes achieve their dreams?”

Walker plans to send the letter directly to Baker.

Tar Heels coach Mack Brown, in announcing that Walker couldn’t play Saturday, criticized the NCAA for how the process has played out.

“We’re one day away from our highly-anticipated season opener against South Carolina, and unfortunately, Tez Walker remains ineligible,” Brown said in a statement. “Our institution has been pushing for Tez’s case to be reviewed by the assigned committee, so that it could be heard prior to our first game. But, the NCAA’s unwillingness to provide clarification over the last few weeks has left us in this position.

“At this point, everyone knows the details of Tez’s journey to North Carolina, and the overwhelming opinion of those around the country is that he should be playing tomorrow and this should have been resolved months ago. I can’t express my disappointment in the NCAA strong enough. The NCAA has been reluctant to consider the real issues of mental health, Covid and rule changes that have impacted Tez’s personal journey.

“They say they’re about helping kids, but all they’ve done is add to the very mental health issues Tez has been dealing with that made him want to get closer to home to begin with. You can’t say you’re about helping kids and then show a total disregard for the kids you’re supposed to be helping. It’s clear they are about process and not people. Fortunately, the committee still has a chance to recommend a correction to this egregious error. We look forward to them hearing his case, and recommending the only outcome this case deserves, that Tez Walker should be eligible to play.”

North Carolina has argued that Walker deserves to play for multiple reasons.

First, Walker did not play at NC Central his freshman year because the pandemic forced the school to cancel the season. Looking for a place to play, Walker transferred to Kent State — the only school that offered him a scholarship at the time. Because Walker did not play at NC Central due to circumstances outside his control, North Carolina believes that transfer decision should not count against him.

Second, Walker says he began to deal with mental health challenges during his two years at Kent State. He grew up in Charlotte as the primary caregiver to his grandmother, whose health started to deteriorate again while he was away. Walker says he went to see the team doctor to discuss his mental health and ultimately decided to transfer to return closer to home.

Walker says that since his arrival at North Carolina, he has received mental health counseling. When he transferred to the Tar Heels, old rules were still in place that made it easier for two-time transfers to get waivers in these circumstances. But two days after he began classes, the Division I Council voted unanimously to significantly tighten the criteria for waivers.

The NCAA says “multiple-time transfers who cannot demonstrate and adequately document a personal need for medical or safety reasons to depart the previous school are not eligible to compete immediately following their second undergraduate transfer.”

According to the NCAA, the Division I board of directors voted in August 2022 to restrict the waiver rules, and the board’s direction made it clear to NCAA members that waivers would be harder to come by this year.

Both Kent State and NC Central have submitted supporting documentation to the NCAA in favor of Walker being allowed to play this season, and North Carolina hopes the NCAA will take that into account during the appeal.

Walker had been looking forward to playing in the season opener in his hometown of Charlotte. His family has tickets to attend the game. It would have been the first time his grandmother would have seen him play a game in person.

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