Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 21, 2013

Marine Football and the NCAA

I used to think of the NCAA as an exploitative cartel. Then I read this story:

Middle Tennessee State walk-on Steven Rhodes, who served five years in the Marines before his active enlistment ended July 1, has spent the past three weeks practicing with the Blue Raiders. The former high school wide receiver has played both tight end and defensive end in preseason camp, and coach Rick Stockstill says the 6-foot-3, 240-pound veteran can help his team somewhere — if the NCAA lets him play.

The Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Daily News Journal reported the NCAA informed MTSU last week that Rhodes isn’t eligible to play this season because he participated in about a dozen games in a military-only football league while he was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. The NCAA initially ruled Rhodes would have to forfeit two years of college eligibility because the military league’s season spanned two academic years (two games were played in the winter of 2011 and about 10 more during the summer and fall of 2012). MTSU successfully appealed the loss of eligibility, but the NCAA ruled Rhodes must still take a mandatory redshirt season before having four years of eligibility.

Because the military-only football league issued uniforms, used on-field officials and recorded scores and statistics, it is considered an organized league under NCAA rules.

Yup. That’s the NCAA. Protecting the integrity of the game. Or something.

Rhodes has characterized the military league as a “recreational league”: “Guys were 18 to 40 years old. We played one game on a Tuesday night and then didn’t play again for six weeks.” According to ESPN’s Mark Schlabach (emphasis added), “In the past, NCAA rules protected members of the military who participated in organized athletics during their enlistment. The NCAA bylaw was first written in 1980 and initially exempted ‘participation in organized competition during times spent in the armed services, on official church missions or with recognized foreign aid services of the U.S. government.’ But over the past four decades, the rule has been revised numerous times to address specific sports other than football, and somehow the military exemption was omitted along the way.”

After facing a great deal of backlash, it appears that the NCAA is reversing its position (in record time!), and Rhodes will be eligible to play this season, according to the Murfreesboro Post.

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