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Pitt transfer Cameron Johnson: I should be immediately eligible at North Carolina

Pitt graduate transfer Cameron Johnson, who scored 24 points at North Carolina on Jan. 31, is seeking his immediate eligibility after announcing his intent to transfer to UNC.
Pitt graduate transfer Cameron Johnson, who scored 24 points at North Carolina on Jan. 31, is seeking his immediate eligibility after announcing his intent to transfer to UNC. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Citing the hypocrisy of college sports, an NCAA bylaw and standards of decency, Cameron Johnson, a graduate transfer from the University of Pittsburgh, made his case on Tuesday for the immediate eligibility that he seeks at North Carolina.

After announcing his intention to transfer to North Carolina, Johnson, a former basketball player at Pitt, released a lengthy statement in which he argues why he should be immediately eligible to compete at UNC.

Johnson, who has two years of remaining eligibility after he graduated in three years from Pitt, wrote that UNC is “the one school that fits my academic and athletic interests the most.” Pitt, though, is restricting Johnson’s transfer and attempting to force him to sit out next season at UNC.

Unlike undergraduate college athletes, who are forced to sit out for one season after they transfer, those who transfer after graduating are eligible to compete immediately under NCAA rules. Different conferences and universities, though, have their own policies for graduate transfers.

Pitt’s policy restricts graduate transfers from being immediately eligible at any other ACC school, or any other school on Pitt’s schedule during the next year. And so while Johnson could be immediately eligible at schools outside of the ACC, Pitt is attempting to force him to sit out next season at UNC.

In his statement, Johnson emphasized the hypocrisy of such a stance. He wrote about how his first head coach at Pitt, Jamie Dixon, left the school and immediately began coaching at TCU, and about how Kevin Stallings left Vanderbilt to become Dixon’s immediate successor at Pitt.

During Johnson’s three years at Pitt, the university also lost one athletic director and hired another. Johnson also noted that the associate athletic director who heard his transfer appeal recently left for another job at another institution.

Of those who had come and gone, Johnson wrote, “all had the freedom to move as they pleased. As a student-athlete, who is not a paid employee of the school, and a graduate, shouldn’t I be granted the same freedom of movement?”

Johnson also cited an NCAA rule that stipulates graduate transfers be allowed to compete immediately at a given school, or be completely denied the opportunity to transfer to that school. Pitt is allowing Johnson to transfer to UNC, and receive immediate athletic financial aid. And so, Johnson argued, given that he wasn’t prohibited from transferring to UNC, he should be immediately eligible there.

During a recent interview, Johnson said he graduated from Pitt with a 3.9 GPA. In his statement, he wrote that Pitt officials cited his strong academic record in their decision to allow him to transfer to an ACC school and receive immediate athletic financial aid.

Johnson in an email to reporters included a copy of a May 2 letter he received from Pitt. In that letter, Pitt’s faculty athletics representative, James Irrgang, explained to Johnson why the university was allowing him to transfer to an ACC school.

Irrgang wrote that it was because of “the combination of your academic achievement of graduating Summa Cum Laude within three years of your initial full time enrollment and the exceptional service that you have provided to the community during your tenure at Pitt.”

Despite those acknowledgments of Johnson’s achievement, though, Pitt has refused to allow Johnson a full release that would allow him to compete immediately. Johnson in a recent interview said that UNC coach Roy Williams is fighting on his behalf.

And now Johnson is taking his case public, and arguing why he should be immediately eligible at UNC. Read Johnson’s letter below.

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter

Here is Johnson’s full statement:

My name is Cameron Johnson and I am a proud graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. I was a member of the Panther basketball team for three seasons (I sat out one year due to injury) but earned my degree in just three years this spring.

I grew up less than 20 miles from Pitt’s campus. My dad played basketball at Pitt. I love the city of Pittsburgh, the students and faculty and, of course, the fans in the Zoo, but for a number of reasons I wish to continue my studies as a graduate student and play the final two years of my college basketball eligibility at another university.

I have spent the last two months looking at schools and the one that fits my academic and basketball interests the most is the University of North Carolina.

Unfortunately, Pitt has attempted to block me from going to an ACC school, or even having contact with one, since I first announced my intention to transfer following my graduation. After requesting, in writing, permission to be released to ACC schools and being denied by the Pitt Athletic Department, I asked for a hearing, per my right as a student-athlete, from an outside faculty committee.

Shortly following this May 2nd hearing, Pitt’s acting Faculty Athletics Representative, Dr. James J. Irrgang, informed me via letter dated May 4th that he was granting me permission to contact other ACC schools and, “immediately receive athletically related financial aid if you decide to transfer to an ACC institution.” Dr. Irrgang wrote this decision was based on,“the combination of your academic achievement of graduating Summa Cum Laude within three years of your initial full time enrollment and the exceptional service that you have provided to the community during your tenure at Pitt.” Though they granted me permission to contact an ACC school, they stated I must “serve a year of residence prior to being eligible for competition, per NCAA legislation.”

Twenty-four days after receiving permission from the faculty committee to attend an ACC school, I visited North Carolina on my final official visit (May 29). A week after this visit, I informed Coach Williams that I was committing to North Carolina.

On June 2nd, I was informed that the NCAA had determined that Pitt’s attempt to make me “serve a year of residence prior to being eligible for competition” does not apply to graduate transfers, per bylaw 14.6.1. According to the NCAA, this bylaw means graduate transfers must either be immediately eligible or totally denied from attending a school. Having already won the right to “immediately receive athletically related financial aid” from an ACC institution at my appeal hearing, I believe, as does my family’s legal counsel, that I should be immediately eligible at North Carolina. Because Pitt did not interpret the NCAA rule correctly, the faculty committee would have to reverse their original decision and deny me the right to receive aid from an ACC institution. Pitt, in their own statements, has even consistently said “If Cameron were to transfer within the ACC, we would be eligible to receive financial aid immediately.”

Besides incorrectly attempting to block me, there are other reasons Pitt should have immediately granted my full release. During my last season at Pitt, Coach Dixon left to become the head coach at TCU, Coach Stallings left Vanderbilt to come to Pitt, we had one director of athletics leave and another (Heather Lyke) come to Pitt, and just in the last week the associate AD at Pitt who presented the case against me in my hearing has left to join another school.

All five of these individuals left their jobs under contract and all had the freedom to move as they pleased. As a student-athlete, who is not a paid employee of the school, and a graduate, shouldn’t I be granted the same freedom of movement?

Further, there is precedent in the ACC, for men’s basketball and football players to play at two different ACC schools in consecutive seasons, following their graduate transfers.

I started this process believing that having graduated from Pitt, I should have instantly been granted an unconditional release. I feel that should be available to any student-athlete who earns their degree. Unfortunately, Pitt has continued to try and block my wish to attend North Carolina. Now that I have learned that their attempt to make me sit a year before competing at an ACC school is against NCAA rules, I see no reason why the faculty committee, or anybody associated with Pitt, should be able to reverse a ruling they already made. Quite simply, I should be immediately eligible at North Carolina.

Sincerely,

Cameron Johnson

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