Served his country for five years. Not allowed to walk on at Middle Tennessee.
In an age where we seem to go out of our way to pay tribute and honor those who dedicate their lives to serve our country, the NCAA is sticking to one rule in order to prevent a Marine who wants to simply walk on to a lowly program just to play college football from doing so.
The story of Steven Rhodes was introduced by The Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Rhodes has served his five years of active duty for the U.S. Marines and now is hoping to have a chance to live out another one of his dreams to play college football. He's not trying to make it big with a top program like Alabama or Ohio State or Oregon. He simply wants the chance to live out his dream at Middle Tennessee State, who gladly accepted his phone calls and was willing to give him the opportunity. With the 2013 season just around the corner, the NCAA is saying Rhodes will have to redshirt the upcoming season because Rhodes took part in organized football activities while serving. Rhodes participated in military-only recreational football in 2012, and thus prevents the NCAA from allowing for immediate eligibility according to the NCAA rule book, rule 126.96.36.199.1 regarding delayed enrollment to be exact.
As John Infante points out on The Bylaw Blog, the delayed enrollment rules were deregulated in 2011 following a rewrite of rules regarding competition wit professionals prior to enrollment and delayed enrollment due to serving in the United States military. There is an exception to the rule for those serving in the armed forces, but that exception only applies to men's ice hockey and skiing.
So if Rhodes wanted to play ice hockey or collegiate skiing, he would be fine. If he had enrolled to play football before fall 2011, he would be fine. The question now is whether he will be fine anyway, via relief from the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement or if a waiver is possible.
Without access to waiver and reinstatement precedent, it is hard to say. But the history of Proposal 2009–22 presents a problem. The best case scenario for Rhodes is that the lack of a military exception in 2009–22 was a mistake. But if it was a mistake, it was a big one. The Division II rule, which is similar to 2009–22, includes a military exception. So do the proposals from when a similar delayed enrollment rule was defeated in 1999.
You can look at the ramifications of allowing this one exception if you wish. Perhaps there is a loophole that could be opened if the NCAA does do a 180 degree turn on this situation (Middle Tennessee has already had an appeal rejected for the eligibility of Rhodes, but the NCAA is continuing to work with the school on the issue). Can't we allow those who have served are willing to work to walk on to a program and earn a roster spot to do so without the NCAA stepping in wagging their pompous finger? From a PR standpoint, it seems like a simple decision to allow Rhodes the chance to play football and to allow it to happen this season.
Rules are rules and I generally have no problem with the NCAA enforcing their rules. But sometimes perhaps the NCAA rule book should be used more as a set of guidelines rather than stick to plain black and white.
Let Rhodes play.