UPDATED Aug. 19, 5:47 EDT/Editor’s note: The NCAA reversed its decision on Steven Rhodes late Monday afternoon. Rivals.com’s Adam Gorney summarized the change of heart:
All that was needed to convince the NCAA a Marine should be able to play was a national outcry.
— Adam Gorney (@adamgorney) August 19, 2013
For an organization that has saw fit to adapt and modify its ordinances at its slightest fancy, the NCAA had better figure out how to help ex-Marine turned Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders football player Steven Rhodes. In an organization so contradictory that it borders on hilarity, this may finally be the kind of story that triggers outrage in the American public.
When Steven Rhodes signed up for the Marines it was to “get a sense of responsibility and to be part of the most elite fighting force known to man,” as he told the Daily News Journal’s Adam Sparks in this piece. A year removed from graduating from Antioch High School in 2007, he enlisted and spent five years in active service.
He played wide receiver in high school and weighed just 180 lbs. but during his time in the Marines, Rhodes’ body transformed. When he returned home from California, Rhodes was a far cry from the lanky kid who left. He was a 6-3 240 lb. man.
He was also married with two kids. His wife, an active member of the United States Navy, is enlisted til September, so in the meantime Steven signed up for classes at MTSU and decided to try out for the football team as a walk-on. Little did he know, an old antiquated–and heavily diluted by years of changes–rule would jeopardize his eligibility to play.
When Steven Rhodes was in the Marine Corps, he participated in a recreational league. It was disjointed and the teams met and played when they could, although often times game were sporadic. However, because there were refs and uniforms and a score being kept, the NCAA classified it as organized athletics, and as such, every academic calendar year that he participated in the league, Rhodes was forced to forfeit a year of eligibility.
Two games in the winter of 2011 cost Steven Rhodes one year of eligibility, and then 10 games in the summer and fall of 2012 would go on to cost him another. So, as Rhodes battled to make the MTSU roster, working as a tight end to start and then as a defensive end after injuries decimated the Blue Raiders front line, the NCAA would rule Rhodes ineligible.
Appeal by MTSU ultimately granted Steven Rhodes with four full seasons of eligibility, but as it currently stands, he’ll still be forced to sit out this season and take a mandatory redshirt year. MTSU compliance officer Daryl Simpson hopes that a second appeal will reverse that decision, although the process is rather unprecedented and time is running short.
MTSU opens their season against Western Carolina on Aug. 29.
Simpson seems reluctant to place blame at anyone’s feet. The rule is old and not actually written to take away eligibility from servicemen. Yet, the language of the bylaw is ultimately what is costing Steven Rhodes, and having seen the NCAA rule as it pleases in several other unrelated cases, the outrage is mounting.
If the NCAA can write and rewrite rules as they please, then what the hell is stopping them from expediting this process and giving Rhodes his eligibility now so he can earn his way onto the field and then reworking the rule to prevent this from happening again?
Awarding him his four full season of eligibility was certainly the right thing to do, and in the middle of all this lamenting, at least the NCAA can see the error in their ways in that regards, but why stop at just giving him four years of eligibility? Why not make Steven Rhodes immediately eligible?
There was no advantage given to Steven Rhodes from him playing in a recreational football league, and there’s no sense in penalizing him for that. And make no mistake about it, being forced to take a redshirt would be a significant penalty for Rhodes.
At 24, Rhodes would be forced to play until he was nearly 30 years old to exhaust eligibility, and, as a walk-on, he’d be forced to pay an extra year’s tuition to play out his allotted time at MTSU.
So now, an eager Steven Rhodes sits and waits. He hopes to win his second appeal and to find himself on the field in uniform against Western Carolina in 10 days time.
That’s 10 days to get this thing right, NCAA.