Rashod Bateman’s decision makes perfect sense, and he’s not going to be the last college star to opt out
It’s hard to blame Rashod Bateman for opting out of this college football season and start training for the 2021 NFL Draft.
There is just way too much uncertainty surrounding this season. It’s a disorganized mess right now. Some of the fault lies within college football itself, but mostly, it’s just really hard to organize sports during a pandemic. The players can tell that at this point, each conference is just sort of winging it and hoping for the best.
So, athletes must make individual choices. That’s what Illinois running back Ra’Von Bonner did. That’s what Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley did. That’s what Bateman did Tuesday.
It’s what more college football stars are going to do, too.
There was plenty of chatter about stars opting out of a spring season, and that will absolutely happen if it comes to that. But we hadn’t seriously considered stars opting out of a fall season. I think that as players have made their way back to campus and team activities have started, they’ve seen that this is going to be a very complicated season. Already, 6 Big Ten teams have halted workouts because of COVID-19, and it’s the first week of August.
It’s fair to wonder, what’s going to happen when there are actual contact practices? What’s going to happen when thousands upon thousands of students return to campus for classes? For a likely 1st-round pick like Bateman, it clearly isn’t an environment conducive to him reaching his potential. Instead, he can go train in Georgia, where he’s from, or maybe Florida or California.
It’s the same calculation that players like Justin Fields, Micah Parsons, Shaun Wade, Rondale Moore, Wyatt Davis, Pat Freiermuth, Chris Olave, Kwity Paye and other Big Ten draft prospects must make. Odds are that some will opt out and some will choose to play.
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer, either. Look at LSU heading into 2019. Joe Burrow, the top pick in 2020, was likely going on Day 3. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the top running back, probably wasn’t getting drafted at all. Ditto for linebacker Patrick Queen, who went in the 1st round. There is certainly something to be gained by playing.
I respect Bateman’s decision to not play, though, because I think Bateman is awesome and is going to be a very good player in the NFL. Is this a young version of Michael Thomas? Maybe. He put more than enough on tape (60 catches for 1,219 yards and 11 TD) for scouts to analyze. He was a preseason All-American and arguably the best offensive player in the Big Ten besides Fields.
Yet even if I understand it, I’ll admit my first reaction to seeing the news was, “No!!!”
College football needs as much star-power as possible, especially in a strange year where we won’t have the normal pageantry and charm that comes with the parades, the tailgates and the big crowds.
And more than that, I was really looking forward to watching Bateman this year with all of the attention on him and not Tyler Johnson. I was really looking forward to watching Minnesota try to take another step in its climb up the Big Ten. I was really looking forward to seeing if Tanner Morgan can contend for the Heisman Trophy. Those last two are still possible, but it’s going to be much more difficult for the Golden Gophers to be nationally relevant like they were last year. Obviously, when a 1st-round talent decides to skip the season, that’s a big loss.
Wishing well❤️ pic.twitter.com/fxV1FI7r7o
— Rashod Bateman (@R_bateman2) August 4, 2020
That said, I am so ready to watch Chris Autman-Bell, who flashed in spots last season as the Golden Gophers’ No. 3 wideout. He has a big chance to get his name out there without Johnson and Bateman.
Chris Autman-Bell made everyone miss on this play 😯 pic.twitter.com/nU4I7v5pwZ
— ESPN (@espn) November 9, 2019
Chris Autman-Bell came up CLUTCH in crunch-time to help force OT and spur Minnesota to the win over Fresno State!
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 10, 2019
I’ll bet the hardest part of this whole thing for Bateman was telling his teammates and coaches. When you’ve trained for years with the same guys, they really are your brothers. It’s not hyperbole when athletes say that — you’d truly do anything for them.
But the circumstances surrounding this season make it difficult for established players to rationalize going through with it. Bateman wasn’t the first star to opt out, and he won’t be the last. That’s the unfortunate reality of 2020.