President Donald Trump honors Army football, ponders 'waiver' allowing service academy athletes to go pro

The Army football team made its return to the White House on Monday.

For the second year in a row, the Black Knights were honored by President Donald Trump for winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, awarded to the service academy team that performs the best against its service academy counterparts. In 2018, Army beat Air Force 17-14 on Nov. 3 and then knocked off Navy 17-10 on Dec. 8 in Philadelphia.

The Black Knights then trounced Houston 70-14 in the Armed Forces Bowl to finish the season with an 11-2 record, the most wins in program history, and ranked No. 19 in the Associated Press poll, the best for the program since 1958.

President Trump lauded the team for those historic efforts and recounted the key moments in those three victories.

“Over the last two seasons, you’ve won 21 of your last 26 games and now hold the second-longest active winning streak in college football, trailing only the Clemson Tigers,” Trump remarked. “Every time you enter the field, you prove you are Army strong.”

President Donald Trump speaks during the presentation of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point football team, in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, May 6, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump is considering a waiver that would allow military athletes to play professionally before completing required active duty. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump considering waiver to allow service academy athletes to go pro

The President also made remarks that are especially of interest to service academy athletes. The U.S. Defense Department has a rule that requires service academy athletes to complete their minimum two years of active-duty service — like Roger Staubach and David Robinson — before signing with a professional franchise. Trump said Monday he hopes to change that.

“I’m going to look at doing a waiver for service academy athletes who can get into the major leagues, like the NFL, hockey, baseball. They’ll serve their time after they’re finished with professional sports,” Trump said. “It used to be five years and four years, and it’s a long time. That’s a long time. Now it’s two years. I think it’s a great idea. I think it’s really fair, too.”

Trump said he spoke with Army coach Jeff Monken about the idea and remarked that it could help with recruiting.

“Can you imagine this incredible coach with that little asset? Because I would imagine that would make recruiting a little bit easier,” Trump said while turning to Monken. “On behalf of the coach, who’s a tremendous guy, we’re going to look at a waiver for the service academies. They’ll serve their time after. I think it sounds good, right? I think it sounds good.”

Department of Defense rule has affected NFL hopefuls

A few things make it difficult for military academies to recruit high-level athletes. Obviously, it’s very difficult to complete everything required of military service. Playing football, or any sport, at a college level only adds to the demands. But the inability to immediately play pro sports can be a detractor as well.

In 2016, the Department of Defense Pro Sports Policy was revised to allow a service member to “request to be tendered an appointment in the reserve upon graduation and satisfy their commissioned service obligation in the Ready Reserve.” That change allowed Navy star quarterback Keenan Reynolds, a fifth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, to play right away. Before that, the policy said service academy graduates could not enter pro sports until they served 24 months of active duty.

However, in May 2017, the DOD rescinded that revision and re-enforced the 24-month rule. The DOD’s decision was made public a few days after the Air Force said it would not allow athletes to postpone their active duty. Air Force wide receiver Jalen Robinette was likely to be selected in that year’s draft, but that was halted by the DOD’s decision.

Robinette, close to completing his two-year requirement, participated in Ohio State’s pro day. He told the Associated Press that he expects to be available full time by August or September.

In last month’s NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings selected Air Force long snapper Austin Cutting. According to the AP, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said he has spoken with Air Force officials about what Cutting can do to fulfill his military requirements while simultaneously attempting to make the Vikings’ roster.

After his comments Monday, it looks like President Trump could potentially assist in those efforts.

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