We make fun of the NCAA because they are an easy punching bag. They lack consistency, transparency and an understanding of the basic concepts of common sense. You would think it difficult for them to find a new low after years of draconian punishments mixed with unsatisfactory wrist slaps but never doubt the potential depths to which Mark Emmert’s organization can plunge.
Steven Rhodes is a 24-year-old Marine sergeant. He finished his five-year commitment to the armed forces this summer and called up Middle Tennessee State’s football coaches and asked if they had a spot for him as a walk-on. They happily accepted the 6’ 3”, 240-pound veteran and have been using him as a tight end and defensive lineman during practice.
Great story, right?
Well, it would be, except Rhodes isn’t eligible to play this season because he took part in an intramural league while in the service. He received no money to play in some extremely disorganized games.
“Man, it was like intramurals for us. There were guys out there anywhere from 18 to 40-something years old,” said Rhodes to Adam Sparks of the Daily News Journal (Murfreesboro, Tenn.). “The games were spread out. We once went six weeks between games.”
The official rule keeping Rhodes from playing a game this season is NCAA bylaw 126.96.36.199.1. Steeped in layers of legal jargon, the rule essentially says that student-athletes that do not enroll in college within a year of their high school graduation will be charged one year of intercollegiate eligibility for every academic year they participate in organized competition.
By NCAA standards, Rhodes’ recreational league games at the Marine base counted as “organized competition” because there were game officials, team uniforms and the score was kept.
“For a guy to go serve our country, you’d think there would be some compassion and understanding so this guy is not prevented from playing college football,” said Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill. “He’s going to be almost 30 years old when his (eligibility) clock runs out. He needs to be allowed to play right now. Hopefully, they let him.”
Daryl Simpson, MTSU’s assistant athletic director of compliance, said that the NCAA rule wasn’t put in place to punish service members but that it’s the result of tiny changes to the bylaws over the years having an unintended consequence. The Blue Raiders are putting together an appeal to get Rhodes eligible in time for their season opener on August 29, but it will take time to get the entire rule overhauled so this doesn’t affect anyone in the future.
This is an easy fix for the NCAA: Let Rhodes play now, change the rule later. Let’s see if they can handle this simple ruling in a timely fashion.
(Be sure and read Sparks' full story here.)