Chris Walker held hostage by NCAA

It is another Monday and Billy Donovan still doesn’t know when the NCAA is going to rule on Chris Walker’s eligibility. It is not like the bumbling organization has a crack team of experts working on this night and day to get it resolved. Far from it. They’ve had all of Chris Walker’s information for months and the NCAA, being the bloated, bureaucratic goliath that it is and consumed by its own sense of self-importance, is making a good kid pay a price for its own ineptitude.

If you’ve ever read “The Peter Principle” – a rather insightful book by Laurence J. Peter which theorizes that organizations promote people from positions in which they are competent into roles for which they have no business attaining – then you have a pretty good idea about the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which has become the poster child for blundering incompetence. This is the same organization that had the greatest slam dunk case in its history handed to it on a silver platter (Miami) and then figured out a way to screw it up. Nevin Shapiro gave the NCAA enough on The U to merit the death penalty. All the NCAA did was put an enforcement crew on the case that broke every ethical standard imaginable. That The U got the softest slap on the wrist since the NCAA took two scholarships away from Georgia in the Herschel Walker case 30 years ago makes you think Larry, Curly and Moe were in charge.

For those of you who need some updating, Chris Walker is the victim here. He hasn’t committed some heinous crime against the NCAA. If he’s guilty of anything it’s being a naïve kid from a small town who has been taken advantage of by people who knew better and this goes back years and years.

Donovan alluded to that at his Monday morning press conference:

“Sometimes a player that is already in college, the administration sits down with and go through rules, compliance issues and have to sign forms and they are being educated on what the rules are,” Donovan said. “I can see less tolerance sometimes because of that, but then you have situations where you have a high school kid that’s not privy to the rules. No one has come in and sat down with him. There are different things that happen and go on inside those situations.”

That is a kind way for Donovan to say that the adults in charge – the ones who knew better and could have steered Chris Walker through the process – had only themselves in mind and not the kid.

Academically, Walker left Holmes County High School in desperate shape to the point that he had to take online courses – sometimes twice – to get eligible. The folks at Holmes County made sure Chris was eligible so he could lead them to a state championship but they didn’t care enough to make sure he had the grades and courses he needed to get into college. That’s called shameful neglect.

When the NCAA and the University of Florida got on the same page with the academics, Walker was admitted to school immediately. He’s been with the team practicing since the day after finals ended in December.

So why isn’t he eligible?

There are some issues, one of which is an unofficial visit that he took to Kansas that was paid for by an AAU coach. Brannen Greene, who was Walker’s AAU teammate, was on the same trip paid for by the same AAU coach. He signed with Kansas but there have been no NCAA repercussions for him.

When the NCAA has questioned Walker about the trip and some other AAU dealings, Walker has been forthright and hasn’t tried to cover anything up. He was naïve enough to think that he wasn’t doing anything wrong, but he was 17 at the time. The adults in charge — the ones who knew or should have known the rules —  let him down.

Donovan, one of the few adults ever associated with Walker who hasn’t used him like a pawn in a personal chess match, knows the kid like nobody else and knows that it’s the adults who should have known better are to blame.

“Right now, I have hope and optimism that a kid that has been totally forthright and honest and truthful and has given everything he possibly could, that the NCAA will do the right thing, so to speak,” Donovan said.

Doing the right thing would be the NCAA ending this charade.

Donovan has to pick and choose his words carefully when speaking about the NCAA. You have to be careful with any organization that calls Mark Emmert its chief executive officer. Emmert is the guy who turned judge, jury and executioner on the Penn State case. He fined the school $60 million and whacked the football program at the kneecaps. What happened at Penn State was bad, but that bad? So any time any coach speaks against Emmert and his band of thugs who are supposed to be there for the betterment of college athletes, you have to be very careful.

“I’m just hopeful and optimistic and the fact that they have asked him (Walker) to basically answer all of their questions in an open and honest way, and I think he has done that to the very best of his ability,” Donovan said. “When it will get decided, when it will happen, I don’t know. I know a lot of people are wanting to find out, but the hard part of this is – as we all mention – is I think people look at different situation or cases in the NCAA and a lot of times there are different rulings on situations where, ‘How come this guy got penalized more than this guy got penalized, and this guy got nothing?’ And I think a lot of times those are the things where there’s not just one standard thing. And the one theme has been, in my opinion: be truthful, be honest. I can say that at least from our school’s perspective they feel like Chris has done that, and that’s all we can ask for right now.”

So Chris Walker continues to practice. He’s started college and from all accounts loves his coaches, loves his teammates and loves being surrounded by positive people, who for the first time in his life, aren’t trying to take advantage of him.

And this is what makes the NCAA’s handling of this case one that should make your blood boil.

Certain high profile schools run NBA assembly lines fed by some of the shadiest characters you can imagine. The kids arrive on campus to play their obligatory one year of college basketball so they can move on to the NBA. Somebody is getting paid and the NCAA knows it but says it doesn’t have the manpower or the subpoena power to enforce the rules. What it doesn’t have is the fortitude to stand up and do what is right.

The NCAA will turn a blind eye to blatant cheaters yet it can hold up the eligibility of a kid like Chris Walker who is at a school with a coach who doesn’t cheat, never has cheated, does things the right way and actually cares about turning the kids who come to him every year into responsible, accountable adults.

There is something wrong about the way this whole case has gone down and it once again points a finger at an organization that has outlived its usefulness. The NCAA is supposed to be all about the student-athlete but instead it’s the big bully. It won’t stand up to any fight it thinks it might lose but doesn’t mind exacting its revenge or showing its power against a small town kid who’s been betrayed by 99% of the adults who he’s encountered in his lifetime.

In this power game played by Mark Emmert and his band of thugs in starched shirts and tailored blue suits, a good kid like Chris Walker is being held hostage.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.


  1. Basketball with all its funny rules has always baffled me. Charging, and walking for instance (they are called on some and not on others). They called what michael jordan did flying I guess. Anyway the rules are so frecking weird , refs can apply them however they wish. This thing with the NCAA makes me want to kick their ass really, really hard. Some of them need to be in jail.