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NCAA rules force Marine to redshirt over 'intramural' games

By Jerry Hinnen | Staff Writer

Hey, college football fan, have you had your daily dose of rage at the NCAA yet? If not, well, you're in luck.

The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro, Tenn., reported Sunday on the case of former Marine Steven Rhodes, who's walking on to the Middle Tennessee State football team after his five years of military service. The Blue Raiders are happy to have him, but there's a catch: by NCAA rule, Rhodes must sit out a mandatory redshirt year over his participation in a military recreational football league.

The Daily News Journal describes the rule in question:

The official rule keeping Rhodes from playing a game this season is NCAA bylaw 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.

But according to both Rhodes and his wife, Adrienne -- who herself is currently serving in the Navy -- those elements were the only thing keeping the games from sandlot football.

“Man, it was like intramurals for us. There were guys out there anywhere from 18 to 40-something years old,” Rhodes said. "This is extremely frustrating. I think it's unfair, highly unfair."

“Those games were something they did in their spare time on the same base," Adrienne said. "They were games against different shops — you know, like the air traffic controllers against the mechanics. It was so disorganized. [When I heard] I couldn't believe that was an issue.”

The good news for Rhodes is that MTSU isn't done arguing his case to the NCAA, even after an initial appeal for immediate eligiblity was denied. (The NCAA did grant Rhodes an extra year of eligibility, electing to overlook that Rhodes' intramural "career" spanned long enough to count for two such years of used eligibility. Thanks, NCAA!) The applicable bylaw, MTSU will argue, appears to have had an exception for military service at one time -- an exception that was erroneously weeded out over its years of revision.

NCAA bylaws expert John Infante writes for athleticscholarships.net that Rhodes' immediate eligiblity -- which could be granted by the NCAA's Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement or the Subcommittee for Legislative Relief -- is certainly possible, but is by no means a slam dunk

[T]he history of Proposal 2009–22 [which eliminated the military exception] presents a problem. The best case scenario for Rhodes is that the lack of a military exception in 2009–22 was a mistake. But if it was a mistake, it was a big one. The Division II rule, which is similar to 2009–22, includes a military exception. So do the proposals from when a similar delayed enrollment rule was defeated in 1999.

When something is not in a proposal that is in every other existing version of the rule and similar proposals in the past, at some point the people tasked with interpreting the rule have to assume the omission was intentional. That the tougher delayed enrollment rule was designed to include participation in US military rec leagues. That would argue against a waiver.

On the flip side, having a long-standing exception to fall back on means this situation can be fixed without opening the flood gates for relief in every delayed enrollment case.

Even if the NCAA rules in Rhodes' favor, the time required to mount the appeal means that, per the DNJ, it "appears unlikely" Rhodes will be allowed to dress for the Blue Raiders' season opener vs. Western Carolina -- a game Adrienne could attend on temporary leave from the Navy. And though MTSU coach Rick Stockstill says "there's no doubt [Rhodes] can help us on special teams," the game against FCS Catamounts -- on paper, the most likely win of MTSU's season -- might represent Rhodes's best chance of playing in 2013.

The NCAA, ladies and gentlemen! And here we were, thinking that ending an Old Dominion basketball player's career a season early because he played eight minutes in a scrimmage at a previous school would be the organization's silliest eligibility-related decision of the weekend. Never underestimate them, as it turns out.

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