We all know that the NCAA is pretty much the worst organization ever, for a variety of reasons, but it might have hit a new low: it's considering forcing Steven Rhodes, a 25-year-old walk-on for Middle Tennessee State who just got back from active service in the Marines, to sit out a year as he tries to fulfill his dream of playing college football.
Rhodes, a 6'3, 250-pound tight end and defensive end, a sergeant who served five years in the Marines, and after coming back to the States, got in touch with MTSU's staff about joining the team. He hadn't played football since high school, but found a role with the team as they lacked depth at defensive end, with head coach Rick Stockstill speaking on how Rhodes could play on special teams and was an inspiration to his teammates.
But his plans hit a snag: the NCAA found out that Rhodes had played in a recreational league while in the Marines. It was loosely organized and generally just for fun, but since the teams had uniforms and referees, the association characterized it as organized competition, and a by-law forces student athletes who don't play college sports immediately after high school to sit out a year for every year or organized competition they play before arriving at school. So, for now, it's told him that he has to sit out the upcoming season.
Rhodes was shocked, as the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro detailed (hat tip to @BFeldmanCBS):
"This is extremely frustrating. I think it's unfair, highly unfair," Rhodes said. "I just got out of the Marine Corps, and I wanted to play. For (the NCAA) to say, ‘No, you can't play right now,' I just don't understand the logic in that."
Rhodes exemplifies the ideal of what a student-athlete is supposed to be. A man who served his country, and has a dream to go to school and play sports, to make himself a better person both academically and athletically. He's a father of two, and as a walk-on, he's attending school on his own dime.
And now he's being told that he has to pay to go to school for an extra year without being allowed to play sports. Even in the already confusing world of rules surrounding sports amateurism, this rule is particularly obscure and purposeless. And whatever purpose it does serve, punishing Rhodes by blindly preventing him from playing sports is almost certainly not the initial intent.
Rhodes is appealing the decision, and hopefully he wins. We're pulling for Rhodes, and hope the NCAA sees the error of its ways in this case.