UNC’s Devontez Walker deemed ineligible this season by NCAA

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina transfer wide receiver Devontez Walker won’t suit up for the Tar Heels this season.

Walker, the Tar Heels’ presumed No. 1 receiver, has been deemed ineligible this season following a hearing with the NCAA on Thursday, according to ESPN and the team.

It’s a decision that led to criticism Thursday from both Tar Heels coach Mack Brown and athletic director Bubba Cunningham.

Below is a statement from Brown:

Walker transferred from Kent State, where he played two seasons, after a year at North Carolina Central when he did not play because the season was canceled. NCAA rules generally allow players to transfer freely once. Brown said Walker had enrolled at UNC in January, just days before the NCAA revised rules to limit waivers for two-time transfers for evaluation on a case-by-case basis.

Walker is from Charlotte and transferred to be closer to family, including an ailing grandmother who played a large role in raising him but has been unable to travel out of state to see him play.

Walker’s mental health is one of multiple factors UNC has cited in making its case. Brown said Walker — who was expected to be the top target for star quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Drake Maye — had been down and struggling emotionally amid the uncertainty leading to the opener.

The decision means Walker must serve a year in residence in Chapel Hill before becoming eligible to play next year, a path that was traditionally the norm for transfers before the current era of free player movement through the transfer portal.

Backlash against NCAA

Still, the NCAA’s stance has drawn widespread criticism nationally, including during the ABC national broadcast of UNC’s opener and even from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

“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,” Brown said. “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.”

In a separate statement, Cunningham said the NCAA has denied Walker’s clearance a total of eight times. He said the decision “undermines the fair treatment” of athletes and erodes public confidence in NCAA leadership.

“The NCAA had an opportunity to demonstrate that this is a new membership organization by using common sense, reason and compassion to determine the eligibility of Tez Walker,” Cunningham’s statement began, adding later: “Instead the NCAA made a maddening, frustrating and wrong decision — for Tez, for college football and for college athletics.”

The NCAA released a statement Thursday discussing the eligibility-review process but declining to comment on specific cases. The Division I Council decided earlier this year that multiple-time transfers must document injury, illness or mental-health concerns necessitating the transfer or issues surrounding the athlete’s safety.

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.

Walker was originally set to play at East Tennessee State before suffering a knee injury that led him to defer enrollment. Instead, he recovered and landed at North Carolina Central, but the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the fall 2020 season at the Championship Subdivision level. Then the team opted out of the limited spring 2021 slate, leading to his move to Kent State.

Cunningham said both schools supported Walker’s bid, adding that Walker is a Dean’s List student set to graduate in December 2024.

His teammates had his back, too. The Tar Heels gave Walker the game ball after beating the Gamecocks, while Maye wore Walker’s jersey backwards — ensuring Walker’s name was visible on his chest — while doing postgame interviews.

“He’s had a rough go of it and this will surely only make it worse,” Brown said Thursday. “How dare (the NCAA) ever speak about mental health and student-athlete welfare again.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(WATCH BELOW: Cooper wants NCAA to grant eligibility appeal for Tar Heels’ Walker)