WVU's RaeQuan Battle: NCAA 'failed' me by denying waiver to play

West Virginia's RaeQuan Battle, who averaged 17.7 points per game at Montana State last season, said the NCAA "failed" him this week by ignoring basketball's impact on his mental health when it denied the appeal of his request for a waiver to play this season.

Battle, a two-time transfer who had previously played at Washington and Montana State before transferring to West Virginia this year, had his initial waiver request for immediate eligibility denied by the NCAA. West Virginia appealed that decision on his behalf, but the NCAA denied the appeal this week.

Battle said he believes his case fits the NCAA's "special circumstances" criteria.

"I will not detail the trauma that I have faced throughout my childhood and college life, but those who do know my story understand how badly I need the game of basketball as part of a comprehensive process to improve my well-being and mental health," he said in a statement Saturday. "Anyone who watches or follows college athletics has seen, heard and been told over and over by the NCAA, especially in their advertisements, that they want the best for their student athletes' careers and wellbeing.

"So, I expected the NCAA to understand the totality of my situation and why I chose to enroll and compete at West Virginia University this season. However, the NCAA has failed me, my family, my community, my team and everything they say they stand for when it comes to a student athlete."

Although immediate eligibility is available to Division I athletes who transfer for the first time, a player seeking a second transfer without first earning a bachelor's degree must seek a waiver.

The criteria for two-time transfers to gain immediate eligibility were tightened this year. Per a statement from the NCAA to ESPN in August, "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."

Battle said former Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle's decision to leave for Utah State impacted his mental health. He said Sprinkle had helped him on his collegiate journey.

After consulting multiple counselors, Battle decided that a new school would benefit him, and West Virginia's staff told him they would support him with his basketball and academic goals. Although he had committed to West Virginia under former head coach Bob Huggins, interim head coach Josh Eilert and Battle have a strong relationship, the player said in his statement.

Battle is Native American and a member of the Tulalip Reservation. He is the first member of his tribe to earn a Division I scholarship. Eilert, who lived on a Native American reservation when he was younger, visited Battle at Tulalip, near Seattle, shortly after accepting the interim role. That enhanced their bond, Battle said.

"Disappointed, disheartened and certainly frustrated are the emotions our entire basketball program is dealing with right now due to this short-sighted decision," Eilert and West Virginia athletic director Wren Baker said in a joint statement following the NCAA's decision. "It has already been requested by the Division I Board of Directors to review the existing transfer rules and waiver guidelines. Furthermore, the chair of the board was specifically quoted stating the NCAA would 'continue to view student-athlete well-being and mental health as a priority for the Association.'

"RaeQuan clearly meets the criteria, but once again the NCAA has failed to do the right thing for the well-being and mental health of the student-athlete. The right thing would improve the life of a young student-athlete and correct his path to academic and athletic success."

While the official process has ended, Battle might have other options.

North Carolina wide receiver Tez Walker was also denied both a waiver request and an appeal to play this season. He had cited mental health and his ailing grandmother as reasons to join the Tar Heels and move closer to home.

Following public criticism, UNC's vocal response to the denial and legal pressure, the NCAA eventually granted his waiver request, citing "new information."

Barring a change, however, Battle would miss the 2023-24 season and be eligible to play next season.

"It feels as though my mental health issues and my extenuating circumstances are not valid in the eyes of the NCAA and that is very painful to me," Battle said in the statement. "It is not lost on me that my issues -- issues that are so common across Native American communities, yet so often discounted and ignored are now being ignored and waved away by an NCAA -- the same NCAA that does not count a single Tribal College or University among its members.

"It is not lost on me that the NCAA, an institution which has all but ignored Native Americans and their concerns, has simply shut the door on me now that I've found a healthy outlet and constructive, holistic approach to my well-being. Instead, they seem determined to take away one of the few constructive and successful outlets I've had in my life."