Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders notified the National Football League Thursday that he is turning pro, setting up a possible test of the league’s restrictions against drafting underclassmen.
Although Sanders is not expected to comment before a news conference Saturday at Denver, Oklahoma State’s probation for recruiting violations probably figured in his decision. The National Collegiate Athletic Assn. banned the university from bowl games for three years and from television appearances for two.
Sanders’ status with the NFL, however, is not clear.
Myron Roderick, Oklahoma State athletic director, said it was his understanding that even if Sanders chose not to play in the NFL, that he could not return to play in college.
A junior, Sanders is ineligible for either the regular or supplemental drafts without a special exemption from Commissioner Pete Rozelle. Rozelle has granted about six of those exemptions a year for the past 20 years, mostly to players who were never drafted.
In most cases, Rozelle has cited the possibility that if he turned down the request, the league’s policy might be challenged in court.
NFL sources, however, have indicated the league is more inclined to go to court now to test its rules against drafting underclassmen.