The NCAA has reversed its ruling declaring Marine Corps veteran Steven Rhodes ineligible to play football, clearing him Monday afternoon to immediately return to the field for Middle Tennessee State.
"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," Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs, said in a statement. "We thank Steven for his service to our country and wish him the best as he begins college."
Middle Tennessee State president Sidney McPhee had told Yahoo! Sports earlier Monday that he expected the ruling to be reversed.
"I'm very confident common sense will prevail here," McPhee told Yahoo! Sports Monday morning. "I have made a call to the NCAA and asked them to take a serious look at this situation. I was very pleased that there was some sense that this case needed a second look."
Rhodes' case became something of a national cause Sunday, when The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro, Tenn., reported on his plight. The married father of two from Antioch served five years in the Marines, and after being discharged this summer he walked on the Middle Tennessee football team. But Rhodes' participation last year in a military-only recreational league ran afoul of NCAA rules, and the Eligibility Center's initial ruling was that he had to sit out this season.
Sidelining a military veteran for playing in what amounted to a glorified intramural league only added to the near-constant P.R. backlash being felt by the NCAA.
Having served on its executive committee for years, McPhee is no NCAA basher. But even if he understands how and why rules are made better than most, he is openly questioning the governing body of college sports in this instance.
"I certainly understand there are policies and procedures and rules, but I think this is a classic case of a rule that has produced an unintended consequence," McPhee said. "In this particular case, the rule does not make any sense.
"We want to value folks who are doing the right thing. This is kind of a no-brainer in my perspective. You don't have to be a lawyer, you don't have to understand the NCAA rulebook. This is a case where compassion says, this does not fit with the intent of the rule.
"This is a kid who was involved in serving his country. He's doing everything right. Why penalize that?"
McPhee said the school submitted its formal appeal packet to the NCAA last week. He said he spoke personally to Rhodes, whom he described as "crushed" by the initial eligibility ruling.
McPhee said he respects the NCAA process but is hopeful that a ruling on the appeal will happen quickly.
"It hurts me that it's been drawn out to this extent," he said, but added that the intent of the rule to crack down on international professionals is understood.
"We have policies for a reason," he said. "At our school I frequently say, ‘Just don't follow them blindly. Take a look and see if they make sense. If the gut reaction is that they don't make sense, let's change the policy and move on.'
"I also understand that the rules are made by the member schools. These rules are passed by us. Sometimes we have to look in the mirror and say, ‘What are we thinking?' "
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