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Carolina, Wake Forest cases lead prosecutor into lawsuit against NCAA

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(The Center Square) – Eligibility to play NCAA sports for Carolina football player Tez Walker and Wake Forest basketball player Efton Reid led North Carolina’s attorney general to join a lawsuit filed Thursday against the association.

Walker and Reid were each seeking special transfer waivers to play immediately rather than having to wait a year. Each had two years of eligibility at the time they transferred, and each has had their initial denial reversed and been allowed to play this season.

But the quagmire of rulings by the governing body in Indianapolis has drawn harsh criticism and claims of unfairness across the country.

“College sports are changing rapidly, but one thing remains the same: protecting student-athletes has to be the top priority,” Attorney General Josh Stein said in a statement. “This rule has been applied inconsistently and hampers college athletes from freely making decisions about where they go to school. The NCAA has long claimed that the transfer rule is necessary to give students time to acclimate, but that justification doesn’t make sense for student-athletes who are in good academic standing. Coaches come and go as is best for their careers and families – students should enjoy that same freedom.”

The suit is filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia. It was started by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and now includes, in addition to Stein, attorneys general from West Virginia, Tennessee, New York, Illinois and Colorado. The states are plaintiffs, represented by their top prosecutors.

Yost cited Aziz Bandaogo, a 7-foot center who wanted to play basketball at the University of Cincinnati. His eligibility was also a reversal allowing him to play.

“We’re challenging the rule to restore fairness, competition and the autonomy of college athletes in their educational pursuits,” Yost said. “The ‘AA’ in NCAA might as well stand for ‘arbitrary and atrocious.’ The transfer eligibility rule needlessly curtails the fundamental rights of college athletes.”

The lawsuit says the NCAA’s claim of academic well-being and the preservation of amateurism can be reached without forcing players to sit out a season.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is part of the suit, filed a separate motion asking for a temporary restraining order to stop the NCAA from enforcing its transfer rule.

Morrisey is involved because the NCAA denied eligibility to potential West Virginia University basketball player RaeQuan Battle.

What is commonly known as the transfer portal has significantly impacted college sports on the NCAA level. It launched Oct. 15, 2018. New regulations were introduced in 2021 for Division I football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s ice hockey, and baseball.

Other changes have followed, including the August 2022 introduction of transfer windows, meaning the time of year the portal is open; and a month later, a rule change impacting only graduate transfers.

In the case of Walker, he would have went to East Tennessee State to start his career but a torn ACL derailed those plans. North Carolina Central came calling while he was working at a Bojangles’ restaurant location to help pay his rehabilitation bills, but his first season there never happened when the school didn’t play in the fall of 2020 or spring of 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He transferred to Kent State.

He enrolled at Chapel Hill in January, expecting to need a waiver, but not a seven-month fight with threats of litigation.

Reid began his career at LSU and played one season. He transferred to Gonzaga, but didn’t play much behind All-American Drew Timme and decided to transfer to Winston-Salem. Deacons head coach Steve Forbes said 100 pages of documentation was provided, and the NCAA asked for more.

He was cleared to play this week.

In September, the NCAA – which had more than 520,000 athletes in 2021-22 – said across all sports there were 21,685 entries to the transfer portal this year. That’s about 4% of all playing. It said 3% of those were multiple transfers and required a waiver to compete immediately.

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