This is surprising news, even by the NCAA’s standards.
Earlier this week, the organization announced it would be granting an eligibility waiver to Michael Turk, a former-turned-current punter for Arizona State. Turk entered the NFL Draft at the conclusion of the Sun Devils’ season, signed with an agent, and turned heads with a record-setting bench press performance at the 2020 NFL combine. Then, the coronavirus hit. Turk was not able to work out for NFL teams individually or compete in his school’s Pro Day due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He did not hear his name called at the NFL Draft, nor did he sign with any professional team as a free agent.
Now, he’ll be able to return for another year of “amateur” sports at the collegiate level. Turk will now enter his redshirt junior season with the Sun Devils and have two more years to potentially stay in school and improve his game. In his first season as the starter at Arizona State, Turk punted the ball 67 times and averaged 46 yards per boot.
Once NBA player Rudy Gobert tested positive, the sports world was entirely shut down in a matter of days. That’s the argument Arizona State relied upon in its appeal, while also adding Turk did not receive any benefits from his time with an agent. The school’s argument included text communications Turk had received from NFL personnel telling him he was in “a difficult spot” because of his position as a punter and the league’s desire to see him evaluated in person, according to a story by The Athletic. That obviously wasn’t possible during quarantine.
By the grace of God I’ve received my 2 years of eligibility back at ASU. Things are crazy and evil in this world but Jesus overcame the world! Put your trust in Him! Check out my other page @SaltlightM Thank you! #ForksUp ? pic.twitter.com/nw4lsrlsER
— Michael Turk (@MichaelMPTurk) June 4, 2020
“I don’t think there’s any chance this happens outside of this year,” ASU chief athletics compliance officer and special counsel Steve Webb said.
Still, it did happen. Could it happen again?
The ruling in Turk’s case is actually fairly consistent with the NCAA’s rules for college basketball, which allow players to “test the waters” before the NBA Draft. The NCAA recently adjusted these rules so players can sign with certain, certified agents, go through the pre-draft process, and then return to school if they don’t receive promising information regarding their chances of going to the league. But, at least at this point, college football has no such rule.
Maybe the NCAA’s unprecedented decision is based only on the issues presented by an equally-unprecedented global pandemic. On the other hand, maybe it’s the beginning of a new rule change that would benefit college athletes and, frankly, just make sense. If a player does not perform well enough to enter the professional league and isn’t drafted, why shouldn’t he or she be allowed to return to college for another shot? Would some underclassmen who go undrafted in the NFL Draft return to school rather than beginning the free agency process?
Kentucky football has seen an uptick of NFL prospects in recent years, with a new handful of future professionals on the roster for the upcoming season. Still, if something happens and a player or two doesn’t find a home in the NFL, maybe, just maybe, the NCAA would allow those players to return to school the following year.
But again, it’s the NCAA. Things don’t always make sense.