The slow-moving monolith that governs college sports has another high-profile decision to make. Should Rashod Bateman and a handful of star football players who initially opted out be allowed back now that the Big Ten has reversed its decision about fall football?
The NCAA should be able to knock this one out by lunchtime.
Don’t overthink it. This isn’t complicated. Use common sense and show an ounce of compassion and flexibility in going off-script in rendering a ruling.
The answer should be yes. Unequivocally yes. For Bateman and anyone else who had a change of heart and requests reinstatement. Letting them play is a fair and sensible thing to do.
It would be peak NCAA hypocrisy to dig in and rule against those players without examining this situation from a basic, fundamental premise.
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren and 11 of the conference’s 14 university presidents and chancellors changed their mind on whether to play sports in the fall. First they voted “no” and then they voted “yes.” Shouldn’t athletes be afforded that same option?
That’s the entire crux of this conversation. Why should a 20-year-old college student be held to a different standard than the leaders who run the conference and universities?
Warren and his cohorts are lawyers and doctors and some of the smartest folks in the academic world. According to his bio, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel graduated from Princeton, earned M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Johns Hopkins University, conducted postdoctoral research at MIT and is a board-certified internist.
Even a person with that résumé flip-flopped on whether he believes it is safe to play football this fall.
So Rashod Bateman can’t do the same?
The NCAA has made a habit of delivering inconsistent rulings in transfer cases, granting some athletes immediate eligibility while requiring other athletes to sit out a year.
This situation is different. The NCAA’s rule book should be irrelevant given the unpredictable and fluid nature of circumstances caused by a global pandemic.
One retort I’ve heard in Bateman’s case is that he opted out one week before the Big Ten made its original decision to postpone. So what? That’s a distinction without a difference.
The Gophers junior All-American receiver cited health concerns as a reason for not playing.
The Big Ten cited health concerns in postponing activities a week later. The timing of which came first should have no bearing on the matter.
What is important is that the Big Ten has more information and data available now, along with daily rapid testing that will help prevent spreading and aid contact tracing.
The picture looks significantly different from when the conference and Bateman made their decisions. The NCAA can’t pretend that’s somehow inapplicable.
Another potential hurdle for Bateman is the fact he signed with an agent and accepted money and other benefits (training expenses), a process that traditionally ends an athlete’s college career.
One theory is that the NCAA will require Bateman to return any money that he received to regain his eligibility.
Again, why bother? His agent will turn around and give him the same financial assistance four months from now again. That seems like a silly and unnecessary shell game.
There is nothing nefarious taking place. No mystery about Bateman’s intentions. He’s headed to the NFL after this season, a projected first-round draft pick. Just tell him and his agent to pause their relationship. No money or other benefits exchanged until after the season. Where is the harm in that?
Allowing Bateman and the others to play will not set a precedent that causes the NCAA’s empire to crumble. The rule book won’t need to be rewritten over this one unique situation. We’re talking about a once-a-century pandemic that deserves concession.
Bateman’s goal isn’t to improve his draft status. He wants to experience one more season of college football with his teammates in a program he loves.
He changed his mind after gaining more clarity about health and safety measures. So did people in position of authority. This really should be an easy decision for the NCAA.