'Crushed.' UNC coach Mack Brown reacts to NCAA's Tez Walker eligibility decision

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Thursday, September 7, 2023
UNC receiver Tez Walker ruled ineligible
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Thursday, the NCAA denied the most recent appeal to have Tez Walker deemed eligible to play for UNC this season.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina got a big win to open the season against South Carolina and, but the No. 17 Tar Heels took a bitter loss off the field Thursday.

The NCAA informed UNC that it had denied the most recent appeal to have transfer wide receiver Devontez "Tez" Walker eligible to play this season.

UNC Coach Mack Brown blistered the decision in a scathing statement:

"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. 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. 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. He's had a rough go of it and this will surely only make it worse. How dare they ever speak about mental health and student-athlete welfare again. We've got complete rosters overhauled through the transfer portal, players playing in their 8th year of college, players playing at their fourth school, and the list goes on. Yet, Tez Walker, who has only played football at one school, isn't eligible. It makes no sense and it never will.

Moving forward, our Carolina family is strong and we need to wrap our arms around Tez, lift him up, and make sure we continue to do all we can to support him. He's continued to work, on the field and off, and remained an amazing member of our program throughout this ordeal. I know that will continue to happen because that's the kind of person he is. Despite this setback, Tez's future remains bright and we'll continue to do everything we can to help him fulfill all of his dreams. Shame on you, NCAA. SHAME ON YOU!"

Under NCAA rules, Walker is ineligible to play this season. Walker was set to play at East Tennessee State in 2019 before a knee injury led him to defer enrollment. He landed at North Carolina Central, but the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the fall 2020 season at the Championship Subdivision level and then the team opted out of a limited spring slate.

His two previous schools, NC Central and Kent State, both filed waivers in support of Walker playing this year.

Walker had been projected as a starter for UNC but now he won't see the field in 2023.

UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz released the following statement:

"We are deeply disappointed that the NCAA has ruled against Tez Walker's eligibility when we believe the facts of his situation should obviously permit him to play this season. There is a time when organizations need to be flexible enough to do the right thing in unique circumstances to best serve the personal welfare of those they serve. We will continue to support Tez in any way possible at Carolina now and in the future."

Coach Mack Brown and Governor Cooper made appeals to the NCAA on Tez's behalf.

WATCH | August 15 interview: Coach Mack Brown on Tez Walker situation

Walker, a Charlotte native, has said he transferred to UNC to be closer to home for family reasons, notably to be close to his ailing grandmother who had played a large role in raising him and has been unable to travel out of state to see him play.

In a statement before the season started, the NCAA voted against allowing him to play, saying "Division I Council's vote means "multiple-time" transfers must document "a personal need for medical or safety reasons" in departing their previous school to be cleared for immediate competition."

SEE ALSO | Maye, Tar Heels win, but it's 'a shame' Walker couldn't play

The NCAA released a statement Thursday discussing the eligibility review process but declined to comment on specific cases

Stephen LaPorta, James Madison's assistant athletics director for compliance, served as chairman of the committee handling UNC's final appeal. He pointed to NCAA requirements approved in April for member schools to provide increased mental health resources and medical support among athletes.

"For student-athletes who transfer for a second time and do not receive a waiver to compete immediately, those resources and support systems are still available as they acclimate to their new schools prior to competing the next year," LaPorta said.

North Carolina Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham said the NCAA made a "maddening, frustrating and wrong.

"This decision undermines the fair treatment of student-athletes and further erodes the public's confidence in our national governing body," Cunningham said. "Despite the NCAA's failure, we will continue to support Tez Walker and his family."

ESPN and The Associated Press contributed.