NCAA: Marine Vet Can Play 'Immediately'
After intense public pressure, the NCAA ruled on Monday that a five-year Marine veteran, Steven Rhodes, can play college football this year for Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) after it had previously ruled he had to redshirt the season because he played in intramural recreational league games on his military base.
"As a part of its continued review of Steven Rhodes’ eligibility, NCAA staff determined he may play immediately," Kevin Lennon, the NCAA's vice president of academic and membership affairs said in a statement. "Additionally, he will maintain all four years of his eligibility."
The NCAA also acknowledged that, "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."
"We thank Steven for his service to our country and wish him the best as he begins college," the NCAA said.
Rhodes had spent five years in the Marines only to find out that loosely organized recreational league games he played with mechanics and air traffic controllers counted as "organized competition," according to an oversight in the NCAA's bylaws. The Marine veteran told The Daily News Journal that he was shocked by the initial ruling because "he knew what that recreational league was. It was not pay-for-play. It was not highly competitive. It was not even well organized."
MTSU, which had won already won a partial appeal of the ruling, expressed its gratitude.
“We were informed this afternoon that the NCAA has granted full approval to Steven Rhodes’ waiver. This is exciting news for Steven and Middle Tennessee State University," the university said. "We express our gratitude to the NCAA for reviewing this situation and granting Steven the ability to play this fall. We are hopeful that the NCAA will look at the bylaws regarding all individuals who serve in the military before becoming a student-athlete.”
MTSU coach Rick Stockstill had indicated that Rhodes, whose wife is in the Navy, would play for the Blue Raiders on special teams if the school won the appeal.