Ohio State football: Big Ten reversal puts focus on players who might opt back in

Bill Rabinowitz
Cornerback Shaun Wade has not said whether he will try to return to the Buckeyes now that the Big Ten plans a fall season. He would be the only returning starter in the secondary.

New words and phrases have entered the lexicon in 2020 as COVID-19 has reshaped the world.

That includes college football. During the months of uncertainty about whether a season would be played, and especially the five weeks after the Big Ten announced that it wouldn’t play, “opt out” became an addition to the vocabulary.

A number of top players opted out of playing this year because of concerns about the coronavirus, impatience about learning the fate of the season, a desire to prepare for the NFL draft, or a combination of those factors.

Until last week, Ohio State had dodged the wave of opt-outs. Then All-American guard Wyatt Davis announced he would leave, and star cornerback Shaun Wade on Tuesday did the same.

Because the Big Ten reversed its decision Wednesday and announced a season that will start in five weeks, much attention will be devoted to the flip side of opt-out. How many players will choose to opt back in?

Davis said hours after the Big Ten’s announcement that he intends to return. On Thursday, Wade announced on ESPN’s SportsCenter that he also would return.

“It was hard for them and their families,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said earlier Thursday on his radio show on 97.1 The Fan. “At the time, (the Big Ten said) they weren’t going to revisit it, so they had to make some hard decisions. Now there’s a whole different set of facts in front of them.

“Wyatt has said he wants to play, and we’re going to do everything to make sure that happens. Shaun’s still talking with his family. We hope that he has a chance to play. Both of them shared that they wanted to play. There’s a reason they both came back. They both could have declared (for the NFL draft) last year.”

Similar situations are being watched around the Big Ten, which has seen more than 20 players opt out. Penn State star linebacker Micah Parsons announced his departure on Aug. 6, and the prevailing wisdom is that the ship has sailed as far as him returning. The same appears to be true of Rashod Bateman, Minnesota’s standout wide receiver. Purdue is hopeful that star receiver Rondale Moore might reconsider his decision to leave. He reportedly has not signed with an agent.

Until recently, making an agreement with an agent would have precluded a player from returning. Neither Wade nor Davis has signed with an agent, though an Ohio State source said a couple of minor issues had to be worked out in Davis’ case because of his contact with an agent.

Attorney Tom Mars, who has won transfer-waiver request cases for several prominent players, including Ohio State’s Justin Fields last year, said he believes the NCAA should and would give much leeway, even if a player had signed with an agent.

He cited the NCAA’s change in policy two years ago that eased the rules for basketball players who sign with an agent and then decide to return to school before the NBA draft.

Mars also pointed to the case this spring of Arizona State punter Michael Turk, whom the NCAA permitted to return to school despite his reportedly having signed with an agent.

But the biggest factor, Mars believes, is the Big Ten’s decision-making process, particularly commissioner Kevin Warren’s declaration on Aug. 19 that its decision to postpone fall sports eight days earlier would not be revisited.

“He couldn’t have been more definitive unless he’d had his PR team put it in capital letters when he said the decision will not be revisited,” Mars said. “Well, every player in the Big Ten had the right to rely on that statement. Notably, the Big Ten never said anything between Aug. 19 and (Wednesday) to suggest that definitive statement would no longer hold true.

“And I think we could all agree, or at least cross our fingers and hope, that what we witnessed in the last five weeks in the Big Ten would never occur again in any conference, at least not during our lifetime. I think that that creates a unique opportunity for the NCAA to even expand the precedent that they set just a few months ago in the Michael Turk decision.”

Ohio State expects Davis to get approval to return. Then they got the good news on Wade, who will be be the only returning starter in Ohio State’s secondary.

Wade proved to be a difference-maker last year. His ejection for targeting during the Clemson game was the turning point in that wrenching loss in the College Football Playoff semifinal in December.

On Day’s radio show, defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs was asked about that play and that, until the Big Ten’s reversal on Wednesday, it would have been the final one of Wade’s college career.

“Let’s hope that’s not his final play,” Coombs said.

It won’t be.


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