Update: Nathan Ruiz of The Oklahoman checked with OSU’s compliance office, where he learned McCleskey must graduate in order to be eligible to play next season. Gundy misspoke on the matter Monday.
Mike Gundy’s weekly media luncheon seemed to be over in a brisk 16 minutes, before he dropped a bombshell.
Senior receiver Jalen McCleskey has decided to sit the remainder of the season so that he can redshirt and transfer elsewhere to finish his collegiate football career.
Here are five things to know about the situation.
Why and how it happened
Gundy said the decision was made Monday morning after he met with McCleskey. He said McCleskey “did not feel good about us getting the ball to him,” and told Gundy he would like to redshirt and transfer.
Gundy said he expressed to McCleskey that he didn’t think McCleskey was making the best decision, but Gundy said he told McCleskey he would support him.
Gundy also said it wasn’t the first time McCleskey had come to him and expressed displeasure in his number of touches.
“He had mentioned it earlier, but you look at it from my standpoint: We can’t control who touches the ball all the time, especially at the wide receiver position,” Gundy said “… We’re certainly not going to tell our quarterback, ‘We want you to throw to this guy for certain reasons.’ He didn’t ask us to do that, but that’s what you’d be doing.”
In the Cowboys’ opening game against Missouri State, McCleskey had a team-high six catches (on an also team-leading 10 targets) for 66 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but the next week against South Alabama, McCleskey had only two catches for 11 yards. In the past two weeks, McCleskey has had a combined seven catches for 77 yards and no touchdowns (on 12 targets).
Of OSU’s four starting receivers, McCleskey ranks second in receptions with 15, but he is last of the four in receiving yards with 155.
A byproduct of the new redshirt rule
McCleskey played in 2015 as a true freshman, meaning he still has a redshirt available. However, McCleskey will have to graduate in order to play next season.
McCleskey, a senior, played in only four games this season, and with the NCAA’s new rule on redshirts, he is still eligible to receive a redshirt for the 2018 season.
This shows a negative side for the new redshirt rule for programs, as it means a program can lose a scholarship player without being able to replace him.
“It could be an issue,” Gundy said. “If I was just to throw something out there, it probably should be a rule that would be consistent within your first two years of eligibility. It could be very popular in the future.
“The NCAA is going to have to take a hard look because right now the rules, forget Jalen’s situation, the rules don’t allow us to add a number to that. So, let’s say you had five guys do it. Well, I’m playing with 80 instead of 85 on scholarship now, and I can’t replace those numbers, even at the semester. They also count against your APR (academic progress rate).”
McCleskey’s decision shows the fluidity that is likely to come to college football rosters. Gundy said he doesn’t dislike the new redshirt rule, but he did say it needs some work.
“This new rule, with how liberal it is to just get up and walk out, is going to start to show whatever side of an ugly face it has in the future,” Gundy said. “And I’m not against the rule. I’m good. They just need to tinker with it a little bit to make sure that it’s better for everybody involved if a player just wants to leave.”
Gundy said he wasn’t too surprised about McCleskey’s decision, given the new redshirt rule.
In the near 10 minutes he spent fielding questions about the situation, Gundy spent a good chunk of the time talking about the new redshirt rule and explaining this is what can happen with transferring becoming more popular.
“He’s been awesome for us,” Gundy said. “Great young man. Great family. He just didn’t feel like he was getting the ball enough, and he wants to save his year and sit and transfer to another school.
“I want to make this clear: I’m not upset with the young man. I’m just being honest with ya’ll. There’s no reason to beat around the bush. It is what it is.”
McCleskey’s legacy at OSU and where will he end up
With 167 catches, McCleskey finishes his OSU career sixth on the all time reception list, above D’Juan Woods and below Josh Stewart.
He finished with 17 receiving touchdowns, the ninth most in school history.
There’s no word as of now on where McCleskey intends to go. McCleskey is from Covington, Louisiana. His father, J.J. McCleskey, who played eight seasons in the NFL, is a secondary coach at Tulane in New Orleans.
“I did not ask him where he wanted to transfer to,” Gundy said. “I only went over the procedures we have in place here. Then, obviously, he’s free and welcome to do whatever he wants to do.”
Who will fill in
Landon Wolff is the next slot receiver up for OSU, a place where the Cowboys are getting thin after losing Tracin Wallace to a knee injury.
Wolff came to OSU as a walk-on, but received a scholarship before this season. He has four catches for 41 yards this season. Last season, Wolf was given OSU’s Outstanding Walk-On Award.
“That guy is unbelievable,” quarterback Taylor Cornelius said of Wolf on Aug. 19. “He’s so quick and twitchy. He’s going to be a big time receiver this year.”
Other wide receivers on the OSU roster include LC Greenwood and Braydon Johnson, both of whom are considered outside receivers
“We can do a few things different here and there,” Gundy said. “That’s just part of it. Guys get hurt and other guys have to play, and now guys transfer and other guys have to play.
“Thinner than what we’ve been (at inside receiver), yeah, but it is what it is. .. You can’t pick a guy up on the wires, let’s put it that way.”