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How should UNC respond to the NCAA’s silence in the Devontez Walker case?

Carolina has shown the blueprint for beating the NCAA before, they should do it again.

NCAA Football: Kent State at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We’re all frustrated with the Devontez Walker situation. At this point trying to repeat his story is just pointless, because we all know it. He’s being royally screwed by the the incompetent NCAA, and that this process is still going on is ridiculous.

Unfortunately Carolina has been down this road before with the NCAA. What they did then is what they should do now: lawyer up and tell the NCAA where the can stick their decision and fight. In this case that fight would be to play Tez Walker regardless of what the NCAA says.

Any Carolina fan is familiar with, as Roy Williams called it, “The Junk.” We don’t need to go back and relive every single second of that nearly decade-long turmoil, but the path it took is looking remarkably familiar-if shorter. In the beginning, Carolina prided itself on cooperation, throwing itself on the mercy of the almighty NCAA and just letting them deliberate itself into circles. There were reports, hearings, notices of allegations, then more reports, altered NOA’s, all the while Carolina just kept cooperating.

Then, right when Carolina looked like they may have reached an understanding with the NCAA about penalties and word leaked out, the NCAA stepped back and decided it was time to throw the book at them. The athletic department had enough. They stopped working with the NCAA, lawyered up, and fought them hard. They challenged the fact that the NCAA even had the authority to punish Carolina as the issues were academic and not athletic in nature.

They were right, and they won. On the same day Carolina was set to hang their 2017 championship banner the NCAA said they were done and Carolina was off the hook. Other schools since have followed this template and fought the NCAA instead of cooperating, right down to NC State hiring the same firm UNC used during their fight.

Fast forward to the current day and Carolina should follow a similar path. Tez’s situation has all of the hallmarks of one that any court of law would love to rule against the NCAA. He transferred under one set of rules then they were changed, the NCAA seems to be unfairly applying penalties to some transfers while others get to play their sixth year of college football, and he's a kid who’s being denied the opportunity to make money both now and later as he wouldn’t be able to get NIL deals this season, and wouldn’t really be able to declare for the NFL draft. In this environment, that’s not really a winning strategy for the NCAA.

The problem, of course, is that any sort of lawsuit will take time to get into the courts and be judged. Even a threat of one is something the NCAA could laugh at, because they know if they lost it would be too late for Walker to get a season of eligibility back. They think they have schools between a rock and a hard place, and it’s hard not to imagine that’s why they wait until so close to the football season to make a decision.

So, really, there’s only one answer: forget whatever the NCAA is going to decide. Tell them you’re going to take them to court, and that you are so confident Walker is going to win that you’re going to play him anyway. Then have him run out with the team in Charlotte and stick him out wide, where Drake Maye can throw his first pass of the 2023 season to him. Even if they deny his appeal, you play him.

It’s not a unique position to take. Earlier this week, Former NC Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr was on the Ovies & Giglio Podcast, advocating that UNC should play him-and arguing that UNC has a duty to do so if they truly care about the player.

Judge Orr hits at something I think they really should do — they don’t need to say this publicly, but in back channel communications to the NCAA tell them that’s what they are going to do. The NCAA has shown before, with Carolina, that if they are in a poor situation with a legal challenge and it’s one that could make things way worse for them, they’ll bend. The potential loss of authority the NCAA could suffer if they lose this case could be the final blow with the organization, as courts have been loving any opportunity to rip them apart.

Also, after this interview, the infamous Walter Byerz on Twitter released some pretty specific information about what UNC had done in order to try and get Tez to play — and it turns out they’ve been doing a lot behind the scenes until this became public a couple weeks ago:

So, you do this like you did in the academics case, behind closed doors and not outwardly telling others what you’ll do. Give the NCAA a chance to save face, rule that Tez should play knowing that the new rule is on firmer ground with future transfer portal members. UNC’s coaches can celebrate that the right decision was made, thank the NCAA for their common sense, and the story withers away as college football gets back into action.

If the NCAA says they won’t make a decision? Play him anyway. There is risk in this move, obviously if you don’t win in court, every game is technically a loss that he plays, and it could preclude you from playing in a bowl if you don’t get any sort of injunction. You’d also anger the NCAA to the point where maybe they decide to throw you in jail for every jaywalking violation, or slap a Lack of Institutional Control violation on you. Maybe all of this comes to nothing but it ties up your compliance office in needless red tape. But it also shows that you mean what you say when you support your players. It highlights the hypocrisy of this ruling, and would help you in the biggest money sport overall.

The other thing to consider is that Tez is ultimately ruled to be ineligible to play for the whole season, he may just turn around and sue UNC. He was promised to play, left a school that he could play at based on information from UNC that he would play and was denied the opportunity to do so. He easily could decide to add to your headache where you’re awkwardly having to defend yourself in court and take the PR hit from what you do in defending yourself.

Now, do I expect the athletic department to take this bold stance? Frankly, no, because this is the same group that forced Drake Maye to apologize for his comments about NC State as a rival school, and made Anson Dorrance apologize for his Cal and Stanford comments last week. While they’ve handled this situation about as well as you can ask with the public campaigns and media pressure, I sadly expect them to fold. There was already hints of this yesterday when Inside Carolina’s Adam Smith was on The Adam Gold Show and said he asked Mack about playing Tez anyway, and Mack responded by saying it was something he didn’t think Cunningham or Guskiewicz would sign off on. Later on, Tar Heel Illustrated provided inside as to how UNC is actually fighting it.

This speaks of an athletic department that may want a player to play but ultimately is about preserving the NCAA as an institution, and it’s infuriating. In this situation, you have the power and the potential to actually take power away from them. Your case is good and public sentiment is in your favor. Tez needs to be on the field tomorrow night, and dare the NCAA to look even worse than they already do.

Play him. Put him on the field. Prove how broken the NCAA already is so that there’s a chance it can be fixed instead of allowing it to stay this broken.