Rashod Bateman’s Return Illustrates Gophers’ Team-First Culture

The Gophers received important news on Wednesday afternoon. Junior wide receiver Rashod Bateman’s eligibility was restored by the NCAA.

Bateman, one of the best wide receivers in the country, initially opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. Last year, the Gophers’ receiver grabbed 60 receptions for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. Entering 2020, Bateman has the best average Expected Points Added (EPA) metric (1.06) among returning Big Ten wide receivers, according to College Football Data. See my chart below: 

His electric playmaking ability changed Minnesota’s offensive scheme. The lethal combination of Bateman and Tyler Johnson stretched opposing defenses at every level. After Bateman opted out, the Gophers were set to lose a pair of All-Big Ten receivers. However, things quickly changed after the conference announced it would return this fall.

In August, Bateman signed with an agent and declared for the NFL Draft. An NCAA player is usually ruled ineligible after an agency contract is completed. However, unique circumstances associated with the COVID-19 pandemic changed the NCAA’s viewpoint. In a subscriber exclusive piece, I detailed the six-step process Minnesota officials and Bateman completed to restore his eligibility.

Earlier this year, Arizona State punter Michael Turk received a waiver after going undrafted in April. The school listed COVID-19 as a special circumstance during the waiver process, according to AZ Central. Past precedent was established and the student-athlete reinstatement committee evidently followed it.

Bateman originally opted out due to all of the uncertainty surrounding health and safety protocols. After the Big Ten formally announced its return, Fleck called his star receiver. He told Bateman that schools officials would help him explore a return, if he was interested. 

“This was all Rashod. He didn’t need much convincing. This wasn’t a recruiting job by me. I simply asked him, ‘if you ever want the option to come back, I’d be willing to talk to you.’ That’s how the conversation went,” Fleck said last week. “I said, ‘Rashod, whatever you decide, I’ll support you 100 percent.’”

Fleck simply wanted to support Bateman and give him an opportunity to return. The Gophers’ head coach told Rashod he could go through the next four or five weeks and not be allowed to play. Fleck asked him, ‘is it worth it to you?’

“Without hesitation, [Rashod] said, ‘it’s worth it, I really want to come back,’” Fleck said.

Just weeks after expressing his desire to return, Bateman’s waiver was approved by the NCAA. Minnesota’s wide receiver posted a video on social media to share the news.

“These past few months have been uncertain and challenging. Challenging for myself, this University and our society. The Row the Boat culture has changed my life forever. I know that to get through tough times, you have to keep your oar in the water,” Bateman said in the video. “And I feel the safest and best place to move forward is here at the University of Minnesota.”

Bateman also announced he is switching his jersey number from No. 13 to No. 0. He is wearing this number to show there is zero tolerance for racism. The Gophers’ wide receiver is using his platform to advocate for change. Bateman wants to join his teammates and make a difference, both on the field and in the community.

“We have work to be done as a team and as a society. This season, I will be wearing No. 0 because there is zero tolerance for racism in this culture,” Bateman said in his Twitter video. “And there is zero doubt about what this program stands for.”

Bateman has been a key leader and foundational player within Fleck’s culture. When the coaching staff visited a satellite camp and offered him, he quickly committed. Despite fielding high-profile offers from SEC programs, including in-state Georgia, Bateman never wavered. He wanted to help Fleck build his culture in Minnesota.

This year, Bateman could have pursued an NFL career early. However, the potential first-round draft prospect, put his teammates first. The Gophers’ star didn’t need to play another season to improve his personal draft stock. Instead, Bateman wanted to finish what he started with his teammates.

“He didn’t come back for Rashod Bateman, he came back for his teammates, too. And I think that’s really exciting about him because he made that comment,” Fleck said. “When you have a team player like that, that’s what you feel on the field.”

MORE BATEMAN CONTENT FOR SUBSCRIBERS:

How much does the return of Rashod Bateman impact the Gophers’ offense? Subscribers can read my three-part film breakdown by clicking the links below: 

Playmaking Ability and Contested Catch Skillshttps://bit.ly/2YPPJvY

Route Running and Red Zone Impact: https://bit.ly/38iZtlE

Speed Cut Video Breakdown: https://bit.ly/3f0v0eK

Become a subscriber and receive complete access to premium Gopher Football content! A Gophers Guru All-Access subscription is just $5 a month!

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