In the wake of the Big Ten initially postponing its fall football season with no new start date set, several star players in the conference decided to opt-out and begin preparations for the NFL Draft. Even without the postponement, it would have been hard to blame any of these guys for opting to not play in a year when they could potentially contract a possibly deadly virus. Add on the fact that the conference never gave any sort of time frame for a potential restart, and you have an overall pretty easy decision to not play.
Well, things have changed.
The Big Ten has reversed course and will now start its season up on October 24. With the news, those who previously had opted to not play college football in 2020 are reconsidering their decisions. Two of those names are offensive guard Wyatt Davis and cornerback Shaun Wade, who have both now announced their intentions to return for Ohio State.
For two others though, the ability to return becomes a bit murkier.
Penn State's Micah Parsons and Minnesota's Rashod Bateman are arguably the top non-quarterback prospects from the Big Ten conference eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft. Because of this, no one batted an eye when they both chose to skip the "season" and begin preparations for their professional careers. Now that there is a season set to happen, the situation has changed. Both Parsons and Bateman are already set to be high draft picks, but big seasons on the field in 2020 could catapult them into discussions to be a top-five or top-ten pick, respectively.
Unlike Davis and Wade, however, Parsons and Bateman have each already signed with agents, which makes sense given that they both opted out in early August. Typically, once a player signs with an agent, they are no longer eligible to play college football given that they no longer meet the designation of being an amateur.
Of course, the situation we find ourselves in here in 2020 is anything but typical. Bateman has already been widely reported as looking for a way back in.
Source: Minnesota star WR Rashod Bateman wants to play for Gophers in 2020. Hes back on campus and enrolled as a full-time student. Hes signed with agent and finds himself in the same scenario as other high-profile players around the country.— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) September 18, 2020
And then there was the tweet that set the Penn State world ablaze.
At this age I never seen so many hard decisions Ive been faced with!— Micah Parsons (@MicahhParsons11) September 17, 2020
Presumably, Parsons' tweet is referring to his decision to attempt to return to Penn State for one more season or continue on towards the NFL.
Since committing, then de-committing, then re-committing to play for James Franklin, Micah Parsons has done nothing but succeed. He immediately became part of the linebacker two-deep as a true freshman, despite having played defensive end for his entire high school career. He forced his way into a near half-and-half split for playing time with a senior in his first season. He started every game of his sophomore season en route to earning All-American honors and was named the Cotton Bowl Defensive MVP. He was named a preseason All-American for 2020 and commonly selected as a high first-round pick in mock drafts.
On the one hand, Parsons returning to school for one more season would potentially give the Nittany Lions their best roster and best shot at a College Football Playoff berth since James Franklin got to town. It would also give him a chance to further solidify himself as the top defensive player in the draft by giving his potential NFL suitors more tape at linebacker (remember, this would only be his third year playing linebacker and only his second as a full-time starter).
On the other hand, the same uncertainties that existed over a month ago surrounding the virus still exist today. Sure, there will be precautions taken and the 21-day quarantine period should hopefully keep any potential outbreaks contained, but it only takes one person to spread a virus, especially in a full-contact sport like football. There's also an argument to be made that Parsons doesn't need to put anything more on tape in order to be a high first-round pick (which in case you forgot, is the primary goal for almost every high-level college football player). And if teams are already enamored with him after one season as a starter, the lack of tread on his tires, so to speak, could make him an even more attractive option in the draft.
Of course, none of this even matters if the NCAA isn't willing to modify its rules for this, ahem, unique season. After all, it would be extremely on-brand for the so-called "governing body" of the sport to do absolutely nothing in the way of helping to organize and unify the conferences in response to the Covid-19 pandemic only to turn around and say, "No, no, you can't play, those are the rules, we said so."
For now, let's optimistically believe that Mark Emmert and his crew of spineless goons will choose to allow for these players to re-join their teams given the dearth of information at the time of their original opt-out decisions. This will still leave our beloved Micah Parsons with an incredibly difficult decision. To join up with his friends and his team for one more run at a national championship or to fully set his sights on his professional future in the NFL?
The decision may be his and his alone to make, but it's one that could have a massive impact on the Big Ten and college football at large.