MURFREESBORO, Tennessee – A Middle Tennessee freshman who finished five years of active service in the Marines this summer is appealing an NCAA rule preventing him from playing this season because he played in a recreational league in the military.
According to The Daily News Journal, the rule essentially says student-athletes who do not enroll in college within a year of graduating high school will be charged one year of collegiate eligibility for every academic year they participate in organized competition.
By NCAA standards, Steven Rhodes' play at the Marine base counted as "organized competition" because there were game officials, team uniforms and the score was kept.
But the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Marine sergeant said the recreational league was nothing close to organized.
"Man, it was like intramurals for us," said the 24-year-old. "There were guys out there anywhere from 18 to 40-something years old. The games were spread out. We once went six weeks between games."
The 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, the clause allowing competition during military service was lost and not carried over into the current bylaws.
Daryl Simpson, MTSU's assistant athletic director/compliance, said he doesn't believe the NCAA ever intended to penalize military service members.
"All this is strictly because of how the bylaw is worded," he said. "In my opinion, there is no intent of anyone to not allow protection to our U.S. service members."
Middle Tennessee won a partial appeal to the NCAA last week recouping two years of eligibility for Rhodes with his recreational league spanning two academic years. But Rhodes still is appealing to play this season practicing both at tight end and defensive end.
MTSU spokesman Mark Owens told The Associated Press on Sunday that the school hopes to hear from the NCAA within the next month. The Blue Raiders open the season Aug. 29 hosting Western Carolina.