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Why Kyler Murray is NCAA-eligible for Oklahoma despite signing a baseball contract

Murray can get paid. He just can’t get paid football money.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray is on the field for the Sooners this fall.

Murray was the ninth overall pick in June’s MLB Draft by the Oakland A’s, and he signed a contract with the Athletics for about a $4.7 million bonus. The QB/outfielder’s agreement with the club allows him to play football for the Sooners as a redshirt junior this year.

Murray is getting paid to play sports. Why hasn’t the NCAA banned him?

The NCAA rulebook is clear:

A professional athlete in one sport may represent a member institution in a different sport and may receive institutional financial assistance in the second sport.

In baseball, Murray became a professional the second he signed with the A’s. Having taken his signing bonus, his college baseball career is over. But no NCAA rule prevents him from playing football in 2018 and 2019 if he wants. His A’s contract will make 2018 his last football season, and then he’s slated to join the team’s minor-league system.

After Murray agreed to his contract, a former UCF kicker whose monetized YouTube videos got him booted from NCAA eligibility wondered aloud why he couldn’t take sports-related money and keep playing, too. Athletes can get paid for their exploits in one sport and keep playing another in college. Yeah, the rules are pretty warped, but they are the rules.

Now, Murray might be the highest-paid college athlete ever.

Few draft picks in any sport get signing bonuses as high as Murray’s. Even fewer are two-sport athletes with the ability to keep playing a different college sport.

In the NFL, only first-rounders and some second-rounders get comparable bonuses, and none of those players in recent times has continued to play a college sport. NBA and NHL picks might go some time without signing, but when they do, it’s time to join their new NBA teams. Baseball’s minor league system suits it to this kind of opportunity.

There’s limited precedent for Murray’s situation, but he’s not the first guy to face it. In 2010, the Rockies drafted Clemson quarterback and outfielder Kyle Parker. He signed for $1.3 million and kept playing QB that fall. He joined the Rockies’ system in the spring of 2011.

Murray’s head coach, Lincoln Riley, is making about $4.8 million this season, or $100,000 more than Murray. The quarterback almost out-earned the head coach this year.

Eventually, Murray has to pick a sport. Baseball seems like it.

To choose football, presumably have to give back his bonus and maybe pay an additional penalty. Also presumably, the A’s sorted out when they drafted and then signed Murray that he would eventually play for them. Even if they hadn’t, choosing football over baseball at this point would require Murray to pass on guaranteed millions for an uncertain future. Murray has left the door open to staying at OU beyond this year, but his agent, Scott Boras, has indicated that Murray wouldn’t really go back on his deal with the A’s.

For the moment, anyway, Murray is an exciting QB prospect.

He was a five-star recruit in the class of 2016, when he signed with Texas A&M. After transferring to OU, he sat behind Heisman winner Baker Mayfield for two years. No one expects Murray to be as good as Mayfield, but he could still be great.

He’s even more athletic than his predecessor, but they might turn out to have similar playing styles. Murray is a shorter-than-average QB with a background in the spread offense, just like Mayfield was when he transferred in from Texas Tech. Mayfield’s individual brilliance was critical to OU’s air raid scheme working, but Murray’s been practicing in it for two years. He’ll have blue-chip talent all around him to help make it work

Murray was among oddsmakers’ Heisman favorites back in the spring. He doesn’t have to put up Mayfield’s all-time-great numbers to be an effective field general for a Playoff contender that has a lot else going for it. Then he can go be a star center fielder.