Big Ten football is back and it’s great there will be games played this fall.
However, there are still major questions players have that remain unanswered. One of the biggest being whether players who opted out of the season will be able to opt back in.
Michigan players such as Ambry Thomas and Jalen Mayfield opted out of the season, with Thomas claiming he signed with an agent.
During normal times a player can lose their amateur status if they enter into an agreement (oral or written) with an agent, or accept benefits from one. These aren’t normal times, though, and there hasn’t been any clarity on this topic from the NCAA or the Big Ten to this point.
Thomas, who signed with an agent, has heard conflicting information about his ability to return or not. “I’m hearing certain things that I can come back,” Thomas said on SiriusXM on Thursday. “I’m hearing other things that I can’t.”
There may be precedent for Thomas to return even though he signed with an agent. In January, Arizona State punter Michael Turk declared for the 2020 NFL Draft as a sophomore, signed with an agent, but ultimately went undrafted. Turk was allowed to come back to ASU based on COVID-19 restrictions canceling his pro day and private workouts leading up to the draft. It’s unknown if Turk received any benefits from the agent, which could complicate matters for some players who want to opt back in if they did receive some type of benefit. But once again, we are in unprecedented times.
As far as the Big Ten is concerned, players who opted out have a legitimate gripe with commissioner Kevin Warren, who said the decision to postpone the fall season would not be revisited. “The vote by the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C) was overwhelmingly in support of postponing fall sports and will not be revisited,” Warren said on August 19.
Prominent lawyer and advocate for student-athlete rights, Tom Mars, feels Warren’s comment should be enough for the Big Ten to allow opt-outs the opportunity to return to their college programs. “The fact that the commissioner said the decision will ‘not be revisited’ and that these guys relied on that statement would allow the NCAA to bring these guys back without setting any precedent that would create a problem down the road,” Mars told The Athletic. “These are extraordinary circumstances that are never going to occur again. Because the Big Ten commissioner was so definitive, with no contradictory statement ever being made by the conference until today (Wednesday), there is a unique flexibility for the NCAA to allow these players to come back, including those who accepted insignificant benefits.”
From the perspective of players who opted out, they took Warren’s comments at face value and believed the soonest a season would start was January. Warren’s statement turned out to be false. A fall season was revisited, a fall season is happening.
The NCAA and Warren have a chance to do the right thing. If players like Thomas want to come back, it shouldn’t be a difficult process, there shouldn’t be more days of uncertainty passing by without receiving the answers they need and deserve. Quite frankly, the moment the Big Ten announced there would be a fall season this issue should have been resolved as well.
In August, there was a lot more uncertainty in terms of testing and data on heart issues, as we sit here in mid-September some of those concerns have been addressed and with testing capacity improving. Unique circumstances call for a unique approach to dealing with them. Do the right thing, NCAA, let them play.