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Matt Rhule: ‘NCAA Shouldn’t Even Have the Waiver’ if Arik Gilbert Is Denied

August 12, 2023

Nebraska still has not heard a final decision concerning Arik Gilbert’s waiver to the NCAA to play this fall. Head coach Matt Rhule said after Saturday’s scrimmage that the process was not complete. The former No. 1 tight end recruit in the country instead continues practicing without knowing he’ll be able to play with the Huskers. Pertaining to the situation itself, Rhule simply said the process “isn’t finalized yet,” before sharing his thoughts.

“I’m just going to be really disappointed if he doesn’t get it,” Rhule said. “He’s the most deserving young man—if he doesn’t get it then they shouldn’t even have the waiver. The NCAA shouldn’t even have the waiver if he doesn’t get it.”

The head coach then said “there’s a lot of parties involved and a lot of entities that don’t always have people’s best interests at heart.” Rhule said he could not comment if Nebraska needs some collaboration with Georgia on his waiver. Immediately after deferring comment, he stood beside Gilbert. He supports the tight end and “shame on anyone who gets in the way or doesn’t help.”

Rhule was then asked about the timing of the NCAA’s determination. Was he surprised it has taken this long? Rhule again could not comment. Then, as if putting a bow on the entire situation, the head coach made a pointed closing remark.

“He absolutely deserves it and I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t get it,” Rhule said. “I’ll be disappointed in a lot of people if he doesn’t get it.”

Gilbert requires a waiver to play this fall because of the NCAA’s rule pertaining to two-time transfers. The Georgia native originally enrolled at LSU, where he became a budding member of the offense. He transferred to Georgia, where he didn’t see the field at all his first season and played in only four games last year.

Gilbert’s personal, off-field issues were acknowledged while at LSU and Georgia. The 6-foot-6 tight end stepped away from the Bulldogs in his first season there, citing personal reasons. He missed several practices the first week of the 2021 season, including Georgia’s first scrimmage. Smart commented on Gilbert’s status with local media at that time.

“Arik’s dealing with some personal issues,” Smart told reporters in a post-scrimmage Zoom call. “We love him. We’re thinking about him. We’re trying to help him.”

The NCAA reportedly denied multiple similar waivers for exemptions to two-time transfers earlier this week. Florida State defensive tackle Darrell Jackson Jr. and North Carolina receiver Devontez Walker were both denied waivers. Maddox Kopp, formerly of Colorado and now at Miami, Ohio, shared that his waiver was denied. Kopp did not play at Houston and transferred to Colorado after one season. He played in two games last fall but cited his academic advisor and head coach leaving in the middle of the semester as ways his learning disabilities were not properly accommodated. Kopp also said “Coach Prime made it very clear that holdovers from the previous team were not welcome and it was best to leave.”

Rhule’s staunch support for Gilbert may stem from wording in the NCAA’s policy change made in January. According to an NCAA statement, “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.” Because of his documented history of personal-health needs, Gilbert’s situation could fit that category. Unlike cases involving Walker and Jackson, Gilbert’s reasons are specifically about his health and not his family.

NCAA representatives have not responded to repeated requests for comment from Hail Varsity. There is no known timeline for when Gilbert’s appeal process will be finalized. Nebraska opens its 2023 season against Minnesota in less than three weeks.

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