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UNC’s Bubba Cunningham discusses ACC expansion, Tez Walker at Raleigh Sports Club

In the course of his presentation Wednesday to the Raleigh Sports Club, North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham touched on ACC expansion, NIL, the transfer portal, Notre Dame, anti-trust laws, the future of college athletics and Roy Williams standing in line to get the ACC Network added to his TV package.

Curiously, nothing was asked during the meeting about the Tez Walker eligibility situation with the NCAA.

Cunningham, in an interview, later explained that the NCAA Division I Committee for Legislative Relief is considering Walker’s appeal. UNC could learn Thursday whether the appeal was upheld and the wide receiver cleared to begin play for the Tar Heels this season as a two-time transfer.

The purview of the seven-member committee is to review the application of NCAA legislation in cases where the circumstances are “extraordinary in nature.” NCAA schools can apply to the committee for a waiver.

UNC believes Walker’s case is extraordinary. He enrolled at N.C. Central, had the 2020 season canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, then transferred to Kent State, where he played his first two seasons of college football.

Cunningham noted Walker went through spring practice with N.C. Central in 2021, but with uncertainty on whether there would be a 2021 season, Walker “took the safer play and went to Kent.” He transferred to UNC, enrolling in January of this year.

Echoing UNC football coach Mack Brown, Cunningham said he is hoping “common sense” prevails and Walker is granted immediate eligibility.

Cunningham’s annual appearance at the sports club Wednesday was timely, coming days after the ACC voted to add Stanford, Cal and SMU as three new members.

“Yeah, I was so much in favor of having those schools come. Not really,” Cunningham quipped.

Expansion required 12 “yes” votes. N.C. State reportedly switched from a “no” vote late last week to approve expansion as UNC, Florida State and Clemson voted against it.

Was Cunningham surprised there was a late vote flip? He did not mention N.C. State but said: “You never really know how people are going to vote. We have total respect for everybody’s opinion on it and hopefully they have respect for ours.”

Cunningham said UNC fields more sports teams than any ACC school. Charter flights will handle the football and basketball teams, he said, but with the baseball team it would be tough “getting 50 seats on a commercial flight” to San Francisco.

Cunningham, talking about the added TV income from ESPN that will come from expansion, said 50% would be spread evenly for the 15 schools currently in the league. The other 50%, he said, would be put into an “incentive pool” for schools that have a “great year” in football and men’s and women’s basketball.

“That was a way for some of the schools that were talking about a differential payout to get some money, and the other schools to get a little more security by having more schools in our league, should somebody decide to leave.” he said.

Notre Dame, Cunningham’s alma mater, is an ACC member in every sport but football and Cunningham said he doesn’t foresee that changing.

“There are three things that are important to Notre Dame,” he said. “One, is access to the College Football Playoff. Two, televising all of their games. And three, a place for their Olympic sports to compete. Right now they have all three, so unless one of those three changes dramatically, then I don’t think they would join.”

Cunningham, during his speech to the club, said he had been in favor of having a “western division” with seven of the Pac-12 schools — before the conference began to disintegrate.

“I’ve been thinking about it for years,” he later said. “If you really want to have a national conference, having multiple time zones is good. But you don’t want to have travel all over the country. You want to make it more regional. I do think regionality of conferences is what really drove college athletics, so if you expand big enough you could get back to a regional competition.”

One club member expressed the frustration of Spectrum’s dispute with Disney and ESPN over carriage fees and how it caused some fans in the Triangle to miss North Carolina’s opener against South Carolina and the Duke-Clemson game Monday, both on ABC.

It’s the kind of frustration shared by many in different ways, Cunningham said. He said Williams did not initially have the ACC Network on his cable provider in Chapel Hill and the Heels’ former basketball coach went to remedy that, patiently standing in one line, then another to sign up for it.

Cunningham said the coach finally was told the account was under “Wanda Williams” and that she would have to be the one to come in and handle it.