NORMAN — As Oklahoma walk-on quarterback Baker Mayfield battles to gain immediate eligibility, he has a powerful partner by his side.
Mayfield’s family has hired Jim Darnell, the attorney who represented Johnny Manziel last season and has plenty of experience going head-to-head with the NCAA.
The family is hoping to have Mayfield declared eligible through an appeal to the NCAA. But if the NCAA denies the appeal, the case could go to court.
“I’ve done it and I’ve had some success with it,” Darnell said. “I take a look at all of them. Coaches are oftentimes getting (mistreated). They’ve got a little bit of leeway to fight but kids don’t have any. Sometimes you’ve got to jump in and get into the fight because it’s the right thing to do and this is one of those fights that’s the right thing to do.”
The Mayfields learned about Darnell through his connection with Manziel.
“It’s not like he’s soft on the NCAA,” James Mayfield, Baker’s father, said.
Manziel was accused of being paid for signing autographs before last season. After hiring Darnell, he was eventually suspended for one half of the Aggies’ season-opener against Rice but missed no more time.
Darnell is based out of El Paso, Texas, but grew up in Oklahoma City.
The Mayfields filed paperwork with the NCAA last week after making a last attempt at convincing Texas Tech to change its stance on Mayfield’s transfer.
“If they wanted to take care of this kid, they could have done it right,” Darnell said. “Anybody, any other student could decide they wanted to leave Texas Tech and go to OU and could just walk away. Because he played football, not because they gave him anything—he never even got a meal—they’re going to try to block him from playing and block his ability to get financial aid. That’s insane. That can’t be right.”
They are hoping to hear back from the NCAA in a matter of days.
Mayfield met with Darnell twice in Norman recently before the paperwork was filed.
Texas Tech blocked the transfer and as things stand right now, Mayfield stands not only to have to sit out this season but lose a season of eligibility because of that stance.
“Whether people like Baker Mayfield or not or OU, it’s really about the silliness of the rules and how the coaches and institutions and the NCAA engage in this,” James Mayfield said.
The Mayfields claim Baker should be considered a non-recruited athlete and thus eligible for a one-time transfer exemption.
Mayfield appealed to a committee of Texas Tech administrators, professors and community members in January, but that appeal was denied. The restrictions on Mayfield transferring to another Big 12 school were upheld.
Asked last month at Big 12 Media Days about the decision to deny Mayfield’s transfer request, Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury cited school policy.
Kingsbury has said Mayfield’s father knew a scholarship was upcoming from Texas Tech.
“That’s not a fact,” James Mayfield said.
Baker Mayfield was a walk-on at Texas Tech last season and quickly made waves, becoming the first walk-on true freshman quarterback to start a season-opener at a power-conference school.
He wound up starting seven games for the Red Raiders, eventually earning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors. He threw for 2,315 yards and 12 touchdowns. Mayfield also ran for three touchdowns.
Mayfield was named the Big 12 Conference Freshman Offensive Player of the Year.
After the season, with no guarantees of a scholarship this fall and Kingsbury making clear the starting job would be up for grabs and Mayfield would not be favored, Mayfield decided to transfer.
He eventually settled on Oklahoma, which seemed like a strange move at the time as Blake Bell and Kendal Thompson remained at quarterback.
Bell soon moved to tight end, and Thompson transferred to Utah.
Now, especially after an exceptional performance in the spring game, Mayfield would likely have a strong chance to be the second on the depth chart behind Trevor Knight.
And with Knight’s recent injury history, the Sooners could use an experienced backup.
James said his son remained positive.
“Bake’s upbeat,” James said. “He’s working out hard. He’s glad he’s there.”
Darnell has also represented Baylor coaches through a pair of basketball scandals and former USC coach Tim Floyd.
Baylor coach Darrel Johnson was acquitted of seven counts of conspiracy and mail and wire fraud in 1995.
Rodney Belcher was an assistant coach at Baylor under Dave Bliss when a Bliss came under fire following the murder of Bears player Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson.
Belcher was given a seven-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA.
Floyd was eventually cleared of wrongdoing.
The 59-year-old Darnell attended Putnam City High School before going to college at Dartmouth and then SMU.
Darnell’s son and law partner, Jeep Darnell, received his law degree from OU.
With the season less than a month away, there is a sense of urgency from both the Mayfields and the Darnells in getting this case wrapped up as quickly as possible.
“It’s not about his scholarship,” James Mayfield said. “It’s about his immediate eligibility.”