LAS COLINAS, Texas — Baker Mayfield will not be playing football at Oklahoma in 2017.
Unless, of course, OU athletic director Joe Castiglione can get the Big 12 Conference to change its mind at this year’s spring meetings and beyond. A proposed rule change (bylaw 6.3.2) would have allowed walk-ons to transfer elsewhere in the conference without penalty, but a 5-5 vote of the Big 12 faculty athletic representatives on Wednesday shot that down.
“It’s certainly possible,” Castiglione said. “We’re going to continue to pursue whatever means available to try and make it happen.”
Mayfield, a quarterback who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting last season in leading Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff and a Big 12 title, famously walked on at Texas Tech in 2013 and won the starting job as well as Big 12 newcomer of the year accolades, then left after he wasn’t guaranteed either a scholarship or the starting position. He transferred to OU — also as a walk-on — and was forced to sit out the 2014 season as a transfer. Per league rules, however, he also lost that year of eligibility, meaning he’ll only play three college football seasons.
The proposed rule change would have passed with a 6-4 vote.
Mayfield and the Sooners were hoping the rule could be modified to exclude student-athletes who received no athletic aid, but that measure failed.
“That could come up again at some point in time,” said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, “but it’s not on anybody’s agenda the rest of way.”
It will be on Castiglione’s agenda.
“If we learn tonight or tomorrow that we can have a further discussion on it that will lead to a vote of some kind, we’ll try it,” Castiglione said. “If we’re not able to pursue any other options this next day or so while the meetings are going on, then we still have time during the summer. We have meetings scheduled in September that would give student-athletes that are in this academic year a chance to know about options before it gets too late. So there’s still some time. We’re not in total control of the situation, but we’re trying to use every effort possible to get this rule modified.”
It may seem like common sense and good, human decency to give a walk-on — in any sport, remember — the ability to receive an athletic scholarship at another school, but Bowlsby indicated it was more complex than just doing the right thing.
“I think there was some apprehension about any walk on at any one of our schools being recruited to another school by an offer of scholarship and whether that is really what we want to do,” Bowlsby said. “All of our programs have walk-ons. Many of them have several walk-ons, non-scholarship kids that came there of their own volition or maybe were recruited walk-ons or preferred walk-ons.”
If Castiglione’s hopes of amending the language in the rule proposal fails to swing any votes, the Big 12 could have a nightmare scenario on its hands: Mayfield graduates and takes advantage of the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule, then goes to someplace like Alabama or Oregon and wins a national championship or a Heisman Trophy — or both.
“I think we need to be careful of unintended consequences,” Bowlsby continued. “I wasn’t in the room when the vote was taken, but I was in the room when the ADs and the faculty reps considered the matter, and there were very good points made on both sides of it. It’s important that we consider the matter not in light of one student-athlete, but rather in light of what’s the right rule going forward, and if we do the latter, I think we’ll take care of the former.”
“To take away a year of eligibility just goes too far,” Castiglione said. “If a school can’t or won’t give them aid where they are, why would you penalize them to go to another place?
“That’s why we’re passionate about continuing to seek the modification.”