The NCAA announced Monday evening that former Marine Steven Rhodes will be immediately eligible to play football for Middle Tennessee State University during the 2013 season, reversing an earlier ruling that required Rhodes to sit out his freshman season because he participated in a recreational football league while serving in the Marine Corps.
“As a part of its continued review of Steven Rhodes’ eligibility, NCAA staff determined he may play immediately. Additionally, he will maintain all four years of his eligibility,” the NCAA said in a statement on its web site, NCAA.org. “We thank Steven for his service to our country and wish him the best as he begins college.”
Rhodes served five years in the Marines after graduating from high school in Tennessee. After completing his service Rhodes asked Middle Tennessee’s coaches if he could join the football team as a non-scholarship walk-on. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Rhodes has practiced at tight end and defensive end in the fall, but he was ruled ineligible because he participated in a football league on his Marine base in San Diego. NCAA rules require players who participate in organized competition between completion of high school and the start of college to sit out a year, but Rhodes and Middle Tennessee disputed that his military league constituted an organized competition.
“Man, it was like intramurals for us,” Rhodes told the (Murfreesboro) Daily News Journal. “There were guys out there anywhere from 18 to 40-something years old,” Rhodes said. “The games were spread out. We once went six weeks between games.”
For once, common sense prevailed in the NCAA’s front office, due in some part to the attention Rhodes’ case received. He appeared on CBS, ESPN, and other stations, and a Twitter hashtag in his support caught on Monday. The NCAA ruling means Rhodes will be eligible for the Blue Raiders’ August 29 opener against Western Carolina, and he will likely contribute on special teams during his freshman season.
The NCAA will also continue to review the rule in an effort to prevent similar cases from occurring again. “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,” its statement said.