Oklahoma State officials say Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders is ineligible to return now that he plans to skip his senior season and play in the NFL next fall.

"He's through . . . We are declaring him ineligible for 1989," Oklahoma State athletic director Myron Roderick said Thursday in Stillwater. "We're 100 percent behind him and we'll be watching him as he develops as a pro. He's a great kid and has done a great job for us."Roderick said it was his understanding that even if Sanders, who in 1988 rushed for 2,628 yards and scored 39 touchdowns, both NCAA records, chose not to play in the NFL, that he could not return to play in college.

Sanders' status with the NFL, however, is not clear.

A true junior, he is ineligible for either the regular or supplemental drafts without a special exemption from Commissioner Pete Rozelle. NFL spokesman Joe Browne said Rozelle has granted about six of those exemptions a year for the past 20 years, mostly to players who were never drafted.

The most recent was last year when Pitt's Craig Heyward was allowed to enter the draft with a year of eligibility remaining and was taken in the first round by New Orleans. In Heyward's case and others, Rozelle has cited the possibility that if he turned down the request, it might be challenged in court.

Rozelle declined to comment during last week's NFL owners' meeting on Sanders' status, but Browne said in New York on Thursday that the league has received a request from Sanders for special eligibility in the April 23 draft.

Sanders' application now indicates he will opt for the regular draft, although he could also go into one of the two supplemental drafts - in July and September. However, if he is turned down and forced to challenge the ruling in court, he might have to wait for the latter, causing him to miss most or all of training camp.

Browne said Sanders' application "will be reviewed by this office and while there is no timetable for a decision, the decision will be made by Commissioner Rozelle prior to the April 23 regular draft."

Other NFL sources, however, have indicated the league is more inclined to go to court now to test its rules against drafting underclassmen.

A pro football source told The Associated Press that Sanders will be represented by David Ware, an Atlanta-based agent. But it wasn't clear whether Sanders had formally signed with Ware.

Sanders, who attended an Oklahoma State athletic fund-raiser late Thursday in Oklahoma City, had no comment on his pending announcement.

William Sanders, however, said his son's decision to join the NFL came after he learned league officials were not likely to challenge his attempt to turn pro.

Sanders was introduced by Oklahoma State coach Pat Jones at the fund-raiser as the "greatest running back in college football history."