CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina (WTVD) -- Initially - it seemed Cameron Johnson was not likely to land at UNC unless Pittsburgh eased off on its mandate that he sit one year if he transfers to another ACC school.
Johnson was clear that sitting for one of his final two years of eligibility was not in the game plan. Pittsburgh did not relent. Rather than transferring to a non-ACC school, Johnson dug his heels in and committed to UNC anyway.
He decided that rather than giving Pitt's ridiculous coach and administrators their way, he is going to stand his ground and fight for his well-deserved right to play immediately.
To that end he released this statement to the media on Tuesday:
My name is Cameron Johnson and I am a proud graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. I was a member of the Panther basketball team for three seasons (I sat out one year due to injury) but earned my degree in just three years this spring.
I grew up less than 20 miles from Pitt's campus. My dad played basketball at Pitt. I love the city of Pittsburgh, the students and faculty and, of course, the fans in the Zoo, but for a number of reasons I wish to continue my studies as a graduate student and play the final two years of my college basketball eligibility at another university.
I have spent the last two months looking at schools and the one that fits my academic and basketball interests the most is the University of North Carolina.
Unfortunately, Pitt has attempted to block me from going to an ACC school, or even having contact with one, since I first announced my intention to transfer following my graduation. After requesting, in writing, permission to be released to ACC schools and being denied by the Pitt Athletic Department, I asked for a hearing, per my right as a student-athlete, from an outside faculty committee.
Shortly following this May 2nd hearing, Pitt's acting Faculty Athletics Representative, Dr. James J. Irrgang, informed me via letter dated May 4th that he was granting me permission to contact other ACC schools and, "immediately receive athletically related financial aid if you decide to transfer to an ACC institution." Dr. Irrgang wrote this decision was based on, "the combination of your academic achievement of graduating Summa Cum Laude within three years of your initial full time enrollment and the exceptional service that you have provided to the community during your tenure at Pitt." Though they granted me permission to contact an ACC school, they stated I must "serve a year of residence prior to being eligible for competition, per NCAA legislation."
Twenty-four days after receiving permission from the faculty committee to attend an ACC school, I visited North Carolina on my final official visit (May 29). A week after this visit, I informed Coach Williams that I was committing to North Carolina.
On June 2nd, I was informed that the NCAA had determined that Pitt's attempt to make me "serve a year of residence prior to being eligible for competition" does not apply to graduate transfers, per bylaw 14.6.1. According to the NCAA, this bylaw means graduate transfers must either be immediately eligible or totally denied from attending a school. Having already won the right to "immediately receive athletically related financial aid" from an ACC institution at my appeal hearing, I believe, as does my family's legal counsel, that I should be immediately eligible at North Carolina. Because Pitt did not interpret the NCAA rule correctly, the faculty committee would have to reverse their original decision and deny me the right to receive aid from an ACC institution. Pitt, in their own statements, has even consistently said "If Cameron were to transfer within the ACC, he would be eligible to receive financial aid immediately."
Besides incorrectly attempting to block me, there are other reasons Pitt should have immediately granted my full release. During my last season at Pitt, Coach Dixon left to become the head coach at TCU, Coach Stallings left Vanderbilt to come to Pitt, we had one director of athletics leave and another (Heather Lyke) come to Pitt, and just in the last week the associate AD at Pitt who presented the case against me in my hearing has left to join another school.
All five of these individuals left their jobs under contract and all had the freedom to move as they pleased. As a student-athlete, who is not a paid employee of the school, and a graduate, shouldn't I be granted the same freedom of movement?
Further, there is precedent in the ACC, for men's basketball and football players to play at two different ACC schools in consecutive seasons, following their graduate transfers.
I started this process believing that having graduated from Pitt, I should have instantly been granted an unconditional release. I feel that should be available to any student-athlete who earns their degree. Unfortunately, Pitt has continued to try and block my wish to attend North Carolina. Now that I have learned that their attempt to make me sit a year before competing at an ACC school is against NCAA rules, I see no reason why the faculty committee, or anybody associated with Pitt, should be able to reverse a ruling they already made. Quite simply, I should be immediately eligible at North Carolina.
The whole thing is impressive, unsurprising from an All-ACC Academic performer and honors graduate (and one with skilled legal representation). The unbending justice of his case arrives in the 3rd, 4th and 5th paragraphs. First that Pitt may have botched their revised ruling on Johnson's transfer, but much more damningly (in my mind anyway), that scores of coaches and administrators have departed without restriction or penalty during Johnson's three years at Pitt. Right down to the associate AD that heard his transfer appeal!
There is no just argument the University of Pittsburgh athletic department can make that backs its restriction. Currently, the school is hiding behind a milquetoast statement:
"The University of Pittsburgh followed the NCAA processes and our institutional policies as they are written. The NCAA is currently evaluating the graduate transfer rule and its application to this situation. We are awaiting their response."
It's a meaningless statement to justify prolonging an indefensible stance. Pitt coach Kevin Stallings, just a season into his new job, is going to struggle to field a full roster this year. It's not hard to see why.