UNC wide receiver Tez Walker denied eligibility by NCAA for 2023 season

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North Carolina wide receiver Devontez “Tez” Walker’s most recent appeal to the NCAA to regain his eligibility has been denied.

The NCAA announced Thursday the wide receiver, a transfer to UNC from Kent State, won’t be granted immediate eligibility for the 2023 season. The decision was made after Walker made a personal appeal to the NCAA Division I Committee for Legislative Relief.

“We’re absolutely crushed to learn that Tez Walker’s eligibility has been denied for this season and he won’t be able to play,” UNC coach Mack Brown said Thursday in a statement. “ I don’t know that I’ve ever been more disappointed in a person, a group of people, or an institution than I am with the NCAA right now. It’s clear that the NCAA is about process and it couldn’t care less about the young people it’s supposed to be supporting.

“Plain and simple, the NCAA has failed Tez and his family and I’ve lost all faith in its ability to lead and govern our sport. They’ve messed so many things up as it relates to college football, and now their failures have negatively impacted the life of one of our own. Just imagine what it is like for Tez to be so excited to come home and have a chance to fulfill his childhood dream of playing for North Carolina in front of all of his family and friends, only to have it taken away despite doing nothing wrong. I can’t begin to understand how this has happened.”

Brown ended his statement by saying: “Shame on you, NCAA. SHAME ON YOU.!”

Brown said this week if Walker was denied this week by the NCAA, “legal recourse” could be the next option for Walker.

A Deion Sanders double-standard?

UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said the NCAA decision “undermines the fair treatment of student-athletes and further erodes the public’s confidence in our national governing body.”

He then made a reference to Colorado’s football program under first-year head coach Deion Sanders. More than half of the Buffaloes’ 85-man roster is transfers who are new to the school this season.

“Seeing more than 50 student-athletes transfer to one school or watching a starting quarterback play for his fourth university in his sixth year doesn’t make sense to many,” Cunningham said in a statement. “Arbitrarily prohibiting a student-athlete from competition -- when that student-athlete has only played two seasons of football in the last five years at one school and wants to play closer to home for legitimate family and mental health reasons -- does not make sense.”

Gov. Roy Cooper was one of many offering support for Walker, sending a letter to NCAA president Charlie Baker asking for leniency. After UNC beat South Carolina in the season opener, quarterback Drake Maye wore a Walker jersey, No. 9, while doing his postgame interviews with the media.

Walker’s backstory

Walker, from Charlotte, transferred to UNC after last season to be closer to his ailing grandmother, who lives in Charlotte. While it was his second collegiate transfer, he had played football only at Kent State, where he spent the past two seasons.

Walker enrolled at UNC on Jan. 9. Two days later, the NCAA altered its rules on transfers, making it tougher for athletes who have transferred more than once during their college careers to be instantly eligible and not have to sit out a year.

The NCAA said an athlete transferring for a second time needed a “demonstrated physical injury or illness or mental health condition” to qualify for a waiver and gain immediate eligibility.

Walker first looked to play at East Tennessee State in 2019 but suffered a knee injury before his enrollment. Walker then enrolled at N.C. Central, which canceled its 2020 schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was on to Kent State. When Walker’s head coach and offensive coordinator left after the 2022 season, Walker entered the transfer portal, believing he would be eligible to play this season. Kent State supported his efforts to play for UNC this season.

“Just imagine what it is like for Tez to be so excited to come home and have a chance to fulfill his childhood dream of playing for North Carolina in front of all of his family and friends, only to have it taken away despite doing nothing wrong,” Brown said in his statement. “I can’t begin to understand how this has happened. The decision makers at the NCAA and on the committee should be ashamed of themselves for doing this to a young man.

“As has been clearly documented, Tez should be eligible for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the mental health issues he’s faced during his time in college. And with this decision, the NCAA has placed an unnecessary burden on him.”

Brown, addressing the media during preseason camp, said he was “banking on” the NCAA making a decision that allowed Walker to play, saying, “That’s the only fair thing for him.”

Walker, a former prep standout at West Charlotte High, was named to the preseason All-ACC team after catching 58 passes for 921 yards last season at Kent State. His 11 TD receptions in 2022 topped the MAC and ranked seventh nationally.

Walker played 20 games in his two seasons at Kent State, starting 12 games.