After almost two weeks of waiting, Rashod Bateman is officially back with the Gophers.
The star receiver announced his intent to return Sept. 18 and received his special NCAA waiver to do so Wednesday. With his remaining two years of eligibility restored, Bateman is primed to return to the field when the Big Ten season starts Oct. 24.
Bateman announced his return with a social media video.
“These past few months have been uncertain and challenging,” Bateman said. “… And I feel the safest and the best place to move forward is here at the University of Minnesota.”
Bateman opted out of the season Aug. 4, citing concerns about playing safety during the coronavirus pandemic. The projected first-round draft pick then signed with agent Blake Baratz of IFA in preparation for the 2021 NFL draft.
The Big Ten ended up canceling all fall sports Aug. 11, only to restore football Sept. 16 with more stringent safety protocols, including daily testing with rapid results. That was enough to persuade Bateman to come back to his old team, though his return wasn’t quite so simple as opting back into college.
Bateman went through the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Reinstatement process after accepting monetary benefits from IFA — including housing, transportation and training in the six weeks he was gone from school — which normally terminate a player’s eligibility.
Gopher coach P.J. Fleck said he had warned Bateman the decision might not work out in his favor.
The NCAA, though, has broken that precedent a couple times during the pandemic, starting with Arizona State punter Michael Turk. He went through the entire 2020 draft only to return to school since he felt he couldn’t accurately showcase his NFL potential with team workouts and campus pro days canceled.
Several players have found themselves in Bateman’s same predicament recently and have also gained clearance, including Ohio State’s Shaun Wade and Wyatt Davis. Bateman likely will have to repay any money taken by him.
In the video, Bateman thanked athletic director Mark Coyle, Fleck and the NCAA for allowing him to compete again with “his brothers.”
The reigning Big Ten Receiver of the Year caught 60 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns last season as a sophomore and was a key cog in the Gophers offense. His return solidifies the Gophers, who finished last season 11-2, as contenders in the Big Ten West.
Bateman has been back practicing with the team and re-enrolled in school since Sept. 18.
“Rashod represents everything that is right about college football, and I am filled with joy for him,” Fleck said in a statement. “... Rashod is one of the best football players in the nation, but he’s even a better person, teammate and son.”
But when Bateman returns to the TCF Bank Stadium against Michigan in three weeks, he won’t be exactly the same. He has traded in his former No. 13 jersey for No. 0, this being the first season the NCAA will allow college football players to wear that number.
In his return video, Bateman said the number zero stands for “zero tolerance for racism in this culture and there is zero doubt about what this program stands for.”
“We’ve got work left to be done,” Bateman said in the video, “as a team and as a society.”