NCAA denies Ohio State receiver C.J. Saunders a waiver for sixth year of eligibility

Joey Kaufman
C.J. Saunders returns a punt against Rutgers in September 2018.

In the days before the scheduled start of preseason training camp, Ohio State wide receiver C.J. Saunders learned his waiver for a sixth season of eligibility had been denied by the NCAA.

Coach Ryan Day revealed the ruling from college sports’ governing body during a teleconference with reporters on Tuesday afternoon.

While Saunders will not play for the Buckeyes this fall, he will join the coaching staff in an undetermined role.

“He’s got coaching in his blood,” Day said, “and he wants to be a part of this season.”

The coaching lineage includes his father, Tim Saunders, who was the longtime baseball coach at Dublin Coffman High School before retiring this year.

C.J. Saunders did not play for the Buckeyes last season after he injured a knee during a preseason practice, prompting him to petition for an additional season of eligibility.

Though a waiver was submitted late last year, it took eight months for a decision to be reached.

Saunders had been taking part in Ohio State’s offseason workouts while his status hung in the air.

“I want to make sure we all thank C.J. for everything he’s done for our program,” Day said. “He’s meant a lot to us, and we’re certainly disappointed he can’t play this season. But we’re excited he’s still going to be a part of our program.”

After first joining the Buckeyes as a walk-on, Saunders rose in stature within in the program and landed a scholarship in 2017. He was one of seven team captains last fall, the first former walk-on in several years to receive the recognition.

During halftime of the Big Ten championship game, while trailing Wisconsin by two touchdowns, Saunders gave a rousing speech in the locker room that spurred on teammates, they said after the game. The Buckeyes rallied for a 34-21 victory and clinched a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Even during the coronavirus shutdown, Saunders was credited for his leadership. Along with linebacker Tuf Borland, he spoke at a player-organized protest of racial injustice in early June outside Ohio Stadium. The “Kneel for Nine” demonstration was organized in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.

Prior to his season-ending knee injury last year, Saunders was in line to be the backup slot receiver behind K.J. Hill and could have assumed a similar role in a season this fall had he been cleared.

Saunders caught 10 passes for 73 yards when he last played, in 2018.


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