After two days of relentless criticism for their ruling, the NCAA has reversed their decision regarding the eligibility of Steven Rhodes, the former Marine walking on the Middle Tennessee State football team.
Rhodes spent five years in military service, where he participated in a recreational football league. According to the NCAA's initial ruling, that league -- which Rhodes described as "something they did in their spare time on the same base" -- counted as "organized competition" and NCAA bylaws required Rhodes to sit out a mandatory redshirt year.
That changed on Monday afternoon with an official release from Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs.
"As a part of its continued review of Steven Rhodes' eligibility, NCAA staff determined he may play immediately," Lennon's statement read. "Additionally, he will maintain all four years of his eligibility.
"Throughout this process, NCAA staff worked closely with Middle Tennessee State University, and we appreciate the school's partnership. 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. We thank Steven for his service to our country and wish him the best as he begins college."
Rhodes appeared Tuesday on CBS Sports Radio's Doug Gottlieb Show to discuss his experience and thanked his wife, his family, and everyone at MTSU for their support. He said that though the sudden rush of media attention had become something of a distraction as the season nears, he has no hard feelings towards the NCAA.
"I'm just happy with where I'm at," he said. "I wouldn't change anything.
"Everything happens for a reason, and I'm blessed to be where I'm at and doing what I love to do."
In response to the ruling, Middle Tennessee president Dr. Sidney McPhee asked that the NCAA take a look at how the bylaws are applied to all those who serve in the military.
"This is exciting news for Steven and Middle Tennessee State University. We express our gratitude to the NCAA for reviewing this situation and granting Steven the ability to play this fall," Dr. McPhee said in a prepared statement. "We are hopeful that the NCAA will look at the bylaws regarding all individuals who serve in the military before becoming a student-athlete."
Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill said that Rhodes will have an opportunity to have an impact on the team in 2013, particularly on the special teams unit.
Middle Tennessee, now a member of Conference USA, opens the 2013 season on Thursday, Aug. 29 against Western Carolina.