NCAA Bans Marine Vet from Playing Football This Year Because He Played in Recreational League on Base
Steven Rhodes, a U.S. Marine veteran and 24-year-old freshman on Middle Tennessee State's (MTSU) football team, will not be able to play football this year because he played recreational football while he was in the Marines that Rhodes described was in his spare time against other mechanics and air traffic controllers.
According to NCAA rules, "Rhodes’ recreational league games at the Marine base counted as 'organized competition' because there were game officials, team uniforms and the score was kept." Rhodes "would have to sit out this season and forfeit two years of eligibility because his recreational league season spanned two academic years." MTSU won a partial appeal and gained back his two years of eligibility but Rhodes still has to redshirt, according to current bylaws.
All this is due to an NCAA oversight "after many revisions of bylaws over the past four decades":
“All this is strictly because of how the bylaw is worded,” Simpson said. “In my opinion, there is no intent of anyone to not allow protection to our U.S. service members.”
The aforementioned NCAA rule first took shape in 1980, when “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” were exempt from limiting eligibility.
But through several revisions and branches of the rule — all for reasons unrelated to military exceptions — the clause allowing competition during military service was lost and not carried over into the current bylaws.
“This is extremely frustrating. I think it’s unfair, highly unfair,” Rhodes said. “I just got out of the Marine Corps, and I wanted to play. For (the NCAA) to say, ‘No, you can’t play right now,’ I just don’t understand the logic in that.”
As the Daily News Journal reported, "despite his age, military service and complete lack of college football experience, Rhodes must take a mandatory redshirt and not play a single game for MTSU this season":
Rhodes, an Antioch native, finished his five years of active service in the Marines this summer, when he called MTSU coaches in hopes of landing a spot as a walk-on player for the Blue Raiders. They happily granted the request of the athletic 6-foot-3, 240-pound Marine sergeant. He has played both tight end and defensive end thus far in preseason camp.
But not long after arriving on campus, Rhodes was told that his participation in a military-only recreational football league in 2012 would hinder his immediate eligibility to play Division I college football, per an NCAA rule.
As the publication notes, "Rhodes was shocked by the news. He knew what that recreational league was. It was not pay-for-play. It was not highly competitive. It was not even well organized":
“Man, it was like intramurals for us. There were guys out there anywhere from 18 to 40-something years old,” said Rhodes, chuckling and shaking his head. “The games were spread out. We once went six weeks between games.
“I was super excited when he got the chance to play football (at MTSU), but then I was shocked to find out there was a problem with him playing,” said Adrienne, a Naval Aviation Ordnance. “Those games were something they did in their spare time on the same base. They were games against different shops — you know, like the air traffic controllers against the mechanics. It was so disorganized. I couldn’t believe that was an issue.”
If he is allowed to play, MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said Rhodes, whose wife is in the Navy, would play for the Blue Raiders on special teams.