Less than 48 hours before Florida A&M was scheduled to face North Carolina for their 2022 season opener, it seemed as though the game might be in jeopardy. Head coach Willie Simmons and his team were informed late Thursday night that 20 of their players, including seven offensive lineman, were ruled as ineligible to play against the Tar Heels. The eligibility issues stemmed largely from academic and transfer rules.
In light of the news, the initial decision on FAMU’s side was to forfeit the game.
“The players didn’t feel comfortable playing under those conditions and they are all understandably frustrated with many of our internal processes in the certification process, so they decided not to play,” Simmons said in a statement on Friday.
Simmons went on to observe that with seven ineligible and three more injured, the Rattlers’ offensive line is left with only seven healthy for this weekend’s game, a number that members of the team felt was dangerously low.
Reports started to break on Friday morning that players were refusing to board the plane that was set to leave for Chapel Hill. After further talks with university officials, including FAMU president Larry Robinson, however, the team ultimately decided to push ahead and play.
“After a few more discussions with university leadership, including the president of the university, the players ultimately decided to play the game. I support these young men 100% in whatever they decide and I’m extremely proud of them for advocating for themselves.” Simmons said.
It should be noted that Florida A&M only has one compliance officer and one academic advisor for its entire athletic department, possibly resulting in some of the eligibility issues and delayed notice the team received of said issues.
“The responsibility ultimately falls upon the student athletes,” Simmons stated. “But without support, it is really, really hard to juggle all they have to juggle and still maintain satisfactory academic progress and still compete at the highest level.”
Although the complete list of ineligible players was not made public, it does not include quarterback Jeremy Moussa but does include defending Buck Buchannan Award winner Isaiah Land. Land was the FCS’ leader in sacks last year with 18. Right now it is unclear whether or not he and his 19 other ineligible teammates will be available for next week’s game against Jackson State and beyond.
North Carolina is paying FAMU $450,000 for tonight’s contest that is set to kick off at 8:15 PM (ET) on ACC Network.