MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman has decided to opt back in for the 2020 football season in light of the Big Ten’s resumption of fall competition, contingent on the star junior gaining the necessary eligibility clearance.
Coach P.J. Fleck confirmed Tuesday that Bateman, who won the conference’s receiver of the year award in 2019, has rejoined the Gophers for practice.
Because Bateman previously signed with an agent – Blake Baratz of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Athletes – in anticipation of declaring for the next NFL draft, his playing status remains tenuous. The university obtained permission from the NCAA’s student athlete reinstatement staff for Bateman, who made his opt-out announcement Aug. 4, to practice. Now the two sides must work toward a resolution for him to potentially regain eligibility this fall.
“But he’s doing everything he can to handle today, and that’s all we told him to focus on. Just focus on today. Continue to get better,” Fleck said on a video conference call with reporters. “And a lot of this is out of your control.”
Bateman was unavailable for comment. In what was intended to be his farewell message on Twitter to Minnesota, Bateman said then that his decision was based on the “uncertainty around health and safety in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.” One week later, the Big Ten pulled the plug on the 2020 season, leaving open the possibility of playing in the spring.
The conference, facing pressure from coaches, players, parents and politicians from all corners of its gigantic 11-state footprint, came back last week with a new set of virus protocols and a nine-game season ending in mid-December. Fleck made Bateman his first contact once the Big Ten confirmed it was game on, without any expectation or hope of him changing his mind.
“If you decide to come back, it is not guaranteed that you’re going to come back. You might go through the next four or five weeks, and you might not be allowed to play. Is it worth it to you?” Fleck asked Bateman. “And without hesitation, he said, `It’s worth it. I really want to come back.”‘
Minnesota is scheduled to open against Michigan on Oct. 24. Bateman had 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns in 13 games for the Gophers last year, leading the conference with an average of 20.3 yards per reception.
Two of Ohio State’s best players, cornerback Shaun Wade and guard Wyatt Davis, initially announced they were opting out. They reversed course last week, like Bateman. Wade, Davis and Bateman are all projected as likely first-round picks.
Running back Mohamed Ibrahim said the Gophers feel like Bateman never really left.
“Now that we’ve got a good health plan out in front of us, he really wants to come back,” Ibrahim said. “We’re happy to have him.”