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NCAA says waiver denials to 2-time transfers product of new policy

The NCAA said Wednesday it has begun applying new criteria to two-time transfers that makes it more difficult to gain immediate eligibility, a day after Florida State defensive tackle Darrell Jackson Jr. and North Carolina receiver Devontez Walker had their waivers rejected.

In a statement to ESPN, the NCAA said, “On January 11, the Division I Council — which includes a voting representative from each Division I conference — voted unanimously to significantly tighten the criteria for undergraduate students who transfer for a second time to be granted a waiver to play immediately.

“As a result of the DI Council vote, multiple-time transfers who cannot demonstrate and adequately document a personal need for medical or safety reasons to depart the previous school are not eligible to compete immediately following their second undergraduate transfer. National office staff, at the direction of NCAA members, have begun applying those criteria for multiple-time transfers for the 2023-24 academic year.”

Both Jackson and Walker are two-time transfers and say they changed schools to be closer to ailing family members. Both players transferred believing they would have their waiver approved based on previous guidelines, which did take into account family circumstances.

In a statement Tuesday, Walker said, “When I made the decision to transfer from Kent St. back to my home area at UNC, I did so thinking I would be able to play this year. The way the rules were set up at the time, we knew we’d have to file a waiver as a two-time transfer, and in previous years, those waivers were being granted.”

Walker began his career at NC Central but never played there after both the fall and spring seasons were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He spent the past two years at Kent State before deciding to go to North Carolina. Because he never played at NC Central, North Carolina believes Walker should be considered a one-time transfer.

Jackson announced his decision to go to Florida State on Dec. 7; Walker announced his commitment to North Carolina on Dec. 21. Both were enrolled at their new schools on Jan. 9. The new legislation went into effect two days later.

A source familiar with the waiver process said the NCAA staff has not been asked to give special consideration to the timing of a transfer decision and whether it occurred before or after the Council vote.

In August 2022, the Division I Board of Directors voted to restrict the waiver rules, and the council vote in January formalized the specifics. The Board’s direction made it clear to NCAA members that waivers would be harder to come by this year.

North Carolina has appealed on Walker’s behalf.

In Walker’s case, Kent State filed a waiver in support of his immediate eligibility at North Carolina. Before the NCAA changed its rule, it was a near certainty that a waiver from the previous school would have helped gain eligibility. But since the rule changed, the NCAA refused to review Kent State’s waiver, according to a source.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has also gotten involved. He wrote a letter to NCAA president Charlie Baker on Walker’s behalf, saying in the letter, “This is the first time I have taken such an action, but this is an unusual and compelling case amidst the backdrop of all the major changes happening in the NCAA.”

Jackson, who started his career at Maryland before transferring to Miami and then Florida State, told reporters Tuesday, “I came home for my mom. She thinks it’s her fault, but it’s not. I’m going to continue to be there for my mom and see how things play out.”

Senator Marco Rubio, who represents Florida, also sent a letter to Baker asking him to reconsider Jackson’s waiver request. “Strong communities are built from strong families. I commend Darrell for his decision to put family first and move home. The NCAA’s decision to deny Darrell’s waiver request sends a wrong message to our young adults when confronted with family health.”

Jackson has had his appeal denied, but Florida State continues to explore avenues for eligibility.

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