NORMAN — Associated Press
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — The NCAA has ruled that a Middle Tennessee football player who spent five years in the Marines will be allowed to compete this fall and that he will have four years of eligibility remaining.
It’s a reversal from the NCAA’s earlier decision to rule Steven Rhodes was ineligible because he played in a recreational league during his military service. School officials had said earlier Monday that they were working with NCAA officials to come up with a solution.
“This is exciting news for Steven and Middle Tennessee State University,” school President Sidney McPhee said in a statement. “We express our gratitude to the NCAA for reviewing this situation and granting Steven the ability to play this fall. We are hopeful that the NCAA will look at the bylaws regarding all individuals who serve in the military before becoming a student-athlete.”
Late Monday afternoon, the NCAA issued a news release saying Rhodes could play immediately and member schools would continue to re-examine the competition rules, especially as it impacts those returning from military service. Rhodes has been practicing at both tight end and defensive end.
“We thank Steven for his service to our country and wish him the best as he begins college,” NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs Kevin Lennon said.
Middle Tennessee athletic director Chris Massaro said he and McPhee went to the practice field Monday afternoon to inform Rhodes of the NCAA’s decision.
“It was really a neat moment to be there for that,” Massaro said. “He was extremely happy, as you’d imagine. It’s always fun to be there when dreams start to come true.”
Rhodes’ eligibility was in question because he played in a recreational league during his military service. An NCAA rule states that student-athletes who don’t enroll in college within a year of graduating high school will be charged one year of eligibility for every academic year they participate in organized competition. An NCAA rule states that student-athletes who don’t enroll in college within a year of graduating high school will be charged one year of eligibility for every academic year they participate in organized competition.