Steven Rhodes just recently completed his five years of active duty as a U.S. Marine sergeant and was looking forward to going to college and perhaps getting back onto the football field after not playing in an official competitive level since high school.
But the 6-foot-3-inch, 250-pound 25-year-old who walked on to the defensive team for Middle Tennessee State University could be barred from playing by an obscure rule instituted by the NCAA, according to Bleacher Report.
It turns out, Rhodes played on an intramural team while in the Marines. It was a league that had uniforms, referees and kept score. Bleacher Report noted that based on the NCAA rules (bylaw 220.127.116.11.1 specifically), this activity technically prevents Rhodes from playing at the college level for a year.
The Daily News Journal out of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, reports that if Rhodes had enrolled in college for one semester before joining the Marines, he would be on the field this season — no question.
Rhodes told the Daily News Journal that the situation was “extremely frustrating” and “highly unfair.”
“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,” Rhodes continued to the Daily News Journal.
“And this is stressful enough already, with us being apart and him going from (Marines) to school,” Rhodes’ wife, who is the Navy, told the Daily News Journal. “Now the eligibility thing just adds to the stress. It’s a bite in the butt and it’s sad. But we are keeping faith that it will all work out.”
Given the number of years Rhodes engaged in “organized competition” while in the Marines, he would sit out three academic years before being able to play college football. But Rhodes and the university appealed to NCAA and have at least gained back two of those years, giving him only this season to sit out.
Being redshirted would mean an extra year of tuition for Rhodes, who is not on scholarship, though. Rhodes and MTSU are still fighting for eligibility this season based on the unique situation and also technicalities that emerged in revisions of the bylaw that have left out exemptions for 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.
The 1986 revision of the rule further clarified student-athlete’s right to participate in recreational sports during military service.
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.
USA Today reported NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn saying in a statement that the athletic organization is reviewing the case and working with the university.
“The process is ongoing and a final decision has not yet been made,” Osburn said.
Watch WTVF-TV’s report on Rhodes’ case:
You can see Rhodes talk about his service, major and hopes for the future in the Daily News Journal’s video.
Update: The NCAA’s Kevin Lenon, the vice president of academic and membership affairs, released a statement later on Monday announcing that its staff determined Rhodes could begin play immediately with four years of eligibility.
“As a part of the ongoing review of NCAA rules, our members will examine the organized competition rules, especially as it impacts those returning from military service,” the statement read. “We thank Steven for his service to our country and wish him the best as he begins college.”
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(H/T: Business Insider)