NORMAN, Okla. (CNN) – Here’s one way to get paid in American college athletics — go professional in another sport. That is precisely what Oklahoma quarterback and MLB prospect Kyler Murray did when he signed a $4.66 million deal with the Oakland Athletics earlier this month.
The 21-year-old junior will fight for a starting quarterback spot with the Sooners this season before joining the Athletics in January. The deal pays Murray nearly the same salary as Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, who is set to receive $4.8 million this year.
But Murray is not letting the dollar signs go to his head — especially when more than 100 of his teammates are living off of student-athlete stipends of a few thousand dollars each. “To me, I’m still broke,” Murray told the Chicago Tribune. “I’m not the kind of guy to come up here and blow money.”
“They obviously made fun of having money,” Murray added. “All that stuff, they make fun of it, but it’s all been good. They showed love, supported me through it all. I’m very thankful for that.”
By signing a professional contract, Murray lost eligibility with Oklahoma’s baseball team, where the outfielder batted .296 with 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 51 games last season. But NCAA rules allow athletes to play professionally in one sport while maintaining eligibility in others, giving the No. 9 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft another year of football.
Murray’s unusual situation is an eye-opener, in an era where the push to pay college athletes from major programs in some form has gained traction. Despite being a gifted athlete, Murray will receive little more than a scholarship from Oklahoma, whose football program reaped reported revenues of over $155 million last year.
The A’s, meanwhile, reportedly received $210 million in revenues last year, while paying over $83 million in salaries.
The fact that Murray — who stands just 5 feet 10 inches tall — is an undersized quarterback for the NFL could have made for an easy decision to commit to baseball.
MLB contracts are generally fully guaranteed for a career that lasts, on average, 5.6 years, according to a recent study. NFL careers span just 3.3 years on average, according to the NFL Players’ Association. All drafted rookies are guaranteed four-year contracts.
Depending on how this season at Oklahoma goes, Murray may rethink his commitment to the A’s — and Riley has left the door open for him to return for his senior year. Should he win the starting quarterback job from Austin Kendall, Murray will succeed last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Baker Mayfield, who he shadowed on the Oklahoma sideline last season.
Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, was signed to a four-year, $32.7 million deal with the Cleveland Browns.
“I’ve been doing it my whole life,” Murray, who previously played quarterback for a season at Texas A&M, said of competing for the starting spot. “Obviously, I competed at A&M. Baker, obviously, No. 1 draft pick, we weren’t competing, but for me, I showed up every day to compete.”
In just limited action last season, Murray threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for 142 yards, including a 66-yard breakaway against West Virginia in his lone start.
“I wouldn’t be here right now if I wasn’t hungry to play,” Murray said. “I think this is the most anticipated football season I’ve ever been ready to play for in my life. I’m ready to go.”
Murray is represented by Scott Boras, who virtually guaranteed his client’s return to baseball. Boras previously negotiated deals for Alex Rodriguez worth an estimated $480 million.
Murray follows the footsteps of other notable two-sport standouts.
Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl winner Russell Wilson played minor league baseball for the Colorado Rockies, but reportedly returned part of his $200,000 bonus so that he could pursue his NFL career.
Former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow played for three seasons in the NFL before switching sports. He has been in the New York Mets farm system since 2016, but suffered a season-ending injury, breaking his hand in July.
The most famous examples of baseball/football dual athletes in the modern era are Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson.
Jackson, a running back, played for four seasons in the NFL, with the Oakland Raiders. He suffered a football-ending injury in a 1991 playoff game, but extended his MLB career to eight seasons. Pro Football Hall of Famer Sanders won two Super Bowls as a cornerback, and played in the 1992 World Series for the Atlanta Braves.
Meanwhile, Charlie Ward won the Heisman Trophy as Florida State’s quarterback in 1993. He then turned to the NBA and enjoyed a 12-year career as a point guard, which paid him over $34 million.
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