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Two-time transfers to gain eligibility through end of spring sports season with TRO set to become preliminary injunction

Earlier Friday, West Virginia’s men’s basketball program announced RaeQuan Battle and Noah Farrakhan would dress and be available to make their Mountaineer debut Saturday in the team’s 10th game this season against Massachusetts.

There will be plenty more opportunities for Battle and Farrakhan at WVU as both are now all but assured to be eligible to play the remainder of the 2023-24 season.

The Ohio v. NCAA case took a major turn Friday when Attorneys General from seven states, including West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey, filed a joint motion with the NCAA to convert a temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction to last beyond the 14-day window and through the culmination of spring sports season.

It was agreed upon by the NCAA and so long as District Judge John Preston Bailey signs off on the final order as expected, it prevents the NCAA  from enforcing its transfer rule until at the earliest, the culmination of 2023-2024 athletics season.

“This is a big win in the fight for student-athletes like RaeQuan Battle of West Virginia University to play in the sport they love,” Morrisey said. “This is all about the student-athletes who were sidelined with the NCAA’s onerous transfer rule, freeing them to pursue their passion and excel in their collegiate experience.

“Let the kids play.”

The 14-day TRO granted Wednesday in a Wheeling courtroom by Judge Bailey allowed two-time undergraduate transfers immediate eligibility for at least a two-week stretch. The next hearing was set for December 27, at which time a more permanent decision was expected.

Instead, that came about 52 hours later when the TRO was converted to a preliminary injunction.

“Given the unprecedented decision by the courts earlier this week, the NCAA has reached an agreement with the States to convert the temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction through the remainder of the 2023-24 NCAA championship season, as this is the best outcome for multiple-time transfer student-athletes wishing to compete immediately,” the NCAA said in a statement. “This action provides clarity for student-athletes and member schools for the remainder of the academic year — any multiple-time transfer student-athlete who competes this season will be subject to the same eligibility and use of a season of competition rules as all other student-athletes.” 

Noah Farrakhan. Photo by Greg Carey

Wednesday’s ruling left uncertainty as to whether or not two-time transfers such as Battle and Farrakhan would be eligible beyond the date of the next hearing. If the TRO was lifted and they were then not eligible, there was confusion regarding whether playing in any or all of West Virginia’s three games over this ongoing 14-day window would dock a year of eligibility from both.

The NCAA sent its members updated guidance Thursday and informed schools that athletes can lose a year of eligibility by playing during the two-week stretch covered by the TRO, even in the event the order was reversed at the next hearing. That drew backlash, particularly after Keylan Boone made his UNLV debit Wednesday in a win over Creighton, while LSU did not play guard Jalen Cook in a win over Alabama State.

Like West Virginia, other schools were reportedly seeking more clarity on the matter.

Battle had a separate case against the NCAA that was essentially consolidated Wednesday into the bipartisan one spearheaded by Ohio.

In that case, Battle was represented by Morgantown-based attorneys James “Rocky” Gianola and John Gianola.

“We’re still kind of waiting on the final order,” Rocky Gianola said. “There’s a joint motion that’s pending right now before the court that the NCAA and Attorneys General have agreed to make the temporary restraining order a permanent injunction through the end of the competitive season for the 2023-2024 spring season. Essentially, the kids sitting out because of the second transfer will be eligible to play. The waivers that are sitting out there, to a major extent, will probably be moot and won’t need to be heard. Hopefully at their next meeting, the NCAA will address this.” 

A 6-foot-5 fifth-year guard who previously played two seasons at Washington and then two at Montana State, Battle was the only Native American to participate in last season’s NCAA Tournament. Battle, who grew up on the Tulalip Indian Reservation, testified Wednesday for 40 minutes and spoke of the hardships he faced throughout his past in college along with the tight bond he developed with former Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle, who now holds that title at Utah State.

After Sprinkle’s departure, Battle opted to transfer to West Virginia, but was denied a waiver for immediate eligibility and then had a follow-up appeal denied. This will be Battle’s final season of eligibility.

“There was a lot of positioning and legal maneuvering to get to this point,” Rocky Gianola said. “It’s really the best resolution at this juncture. This is a big victory if in fact the judge does enter the order.”

West Virginia did not file a waiver for Farrakahan to play this season. The 6-1 guard played one season at East Carolina and then two at Eastern Michigan and has two seasons of eligibility remaining.