West Virginia Guard RaeQuan Battle looks on prior to a game against the Pittsburgh on Dec. 6 in Morgantown, WV. Battle, a former Marysville Pilchuck High School standout, has yet to play this season. College athletes like Battle, who were denied the chance to play immediately after transferring a second time, can return to temporarily return to competition. (William Wotring/The Dominion-Post via AP)

West Virginia Guard RaeQuan Battle looks on prior to a game against the Pittsburgh on Dec. 6 in Morgantown, WV. Battle, a former Marysville Pilchuck High School standout, has yet to play this season. College athletes like Battle, who were denied the chance to play immediately after transferring a second time, can return to temporarily return to competition. (William Wotring/The Dominion-Post via AP)

Battle eligible to play, for now, after judge’s order against NCAA

A federal judge issued a 14-day temporary restraining order against the NCAA from enforcing its tranfer rule.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Former Marysville Pilchuck High School star RaeQuan Battle’s fight to play for the West Virginia University men’s basketball team took a positive turn Wednesday.

College athletes who were denied the chance to play immediately after transferring a second time can return to competition — for now — after a federal judge issued a 14-day temporary restraining order Wednesday against the NCAA.

U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey in northern West Virginia issued the order against the NCAA from enforcing the transfer rule. A lawsuit filed by West Virginia and six other states alleged the rule’s waiver process violated federal antitrust law. The order clears the way for athletes to play during the two-week period and also ensures that schools won’t be punished for allowing it.

The NCAA said in a statement it would comply with the order and notify schools.

A hearing on the restraining order is scheduled for Dec. 27.

Battle transferred to West Virginia this season from Montana State after previously playing at Washington and has been sitting out.

“I’m in the gym every single day with the team, with the blood, sweat and tears with them,” Battle told the court Wednesday. “When the ball is thrown up and that tipoff starts, I’m not suited up. That’s what hurts me the most.”

NCAA rules allow underclassmen to transfer once without having to sit out a year. But an additional transfer as an undergraduate generally requires the NCAA to grant a waiver allowing the athlete to compete immediately. Without it, the athlete would have to sit out for a year at the new school.

Last January, the NCAA implemented stricter guidelines for granting those waivers on a case-by-case basis.

Battle, who grew up on the Tulalip Indian Reservation, has said his mental health is a big reason why he came to West Virginia. Battle said he has lost “countless people” to drugs, alcohol and COVID-19 in a statement released on X on Dec.5.

After Battle visited West Virginia, he learned that now-coach Josh Eilert had lived on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota with his mother following his parents’ divorce and felt a connection with the coach.

West Virginia’s next game is Saturday in Springfield, Massachusetts, against UMass. Battle has the opportunity to play in at least three games before the 14-day window ends.

“Welcome to the party,” West Virginia forward Quinn Slazinski said on social media.

The states involved in seeking the restraining order were Colorado, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether any of the affected players would try to compete during the 14-day window.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he’s “looking forward to proving definitively” that multitransfer athletes should be able to play without a waiting period.

The lawsuit alleged requiring athletes to sit can mean lost potential earnings from endorsement deals with their name, image and likeness (NIL) or professional careers. It pointed to exposure from competing in national broadcasts, noting: “One game can take a college athlete from a local fan favorite to a household name.”

“It is ironic that this rule, stylized as promoting the welfare of college athletes, strips them of the agency and opportunity to optimize their own welfare as they see fit,” the lawsuit said.

A recent transfer-waiver case involved North Carolina wide receiver Devontez Walker. The NCAA initially denied his waiver as a two-time transfer. He previously played at Kent State and also had a stop at North Carolina Central, although he never played there because the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out NCCU’s 2020 season. UNC fought for months to get Walker cleared in a testy case before the NCAA reversed its position in October.

The waiver process has become a source of frustration throughout college sports. Since the rules were changed to allow all athletes to transfer one time before graduating and be immediately eligible to compete, some are questioning whether any exceptions should be made for athletes who look to transfer a second time as an undergraduate.

“I’ve served in the men’s basketball aspect of the NCAA for quite some time on some committees and you ask most coaches and they’ll say, ‘We don’t want any waivers. There shouldn’t be any waivers,’” Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod said last week during a panel at the Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in Las Vegas. “But as soon as they get a kid that they want want to get eligible, they’re all for a waiver.”

AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.

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