Steven Rhodes' NCAA eligibility issues caused by missing exception

Joe Robbins

Rhodes' participation in a military-only recreational football league as a member of the Marines may keep him from playing for Middle Tennessee in 2013.

Steven Rhodes is a member of the Middle Tennessee State football program and a former Marine, but as things stand now, he isn't eligible to play in 2013. The reason for that is the NCAA's delayed enrollment rule, and a missing clause that had in the past made military members an exception to this rule.

Rhodes' problem stems from the fact that he played in rec league games while a member of the Marines, which the NCAA considers "organized competition." The crux is this, according to The Daily News Journal:

The official rule keeping Rhodes from playing a game this season is NCAA bylaw 14.2.3.2.1. 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.

As mentioned, this bylaw once included an exception for members of the armed forces. But as NCAA rules guru John Infante explains here, a recent alteration of the bylaw -- officially termed Proposal 2009-22 -- changed the wording of that exception. Now this exception applies to just a pair of sports -- skiing and ice hockey. Rhodes would be completely in the clear if he wanted to play either of those sports collegiately, or if he had enrolled at MTSU before 2011, when Proposal 2009-22 went into effect.

Instead, Rhodes is facing a mandatory redshirt season, and it is unclear at this point what his options are. Middle Tennessee is doing what it can to build a case for reinstatement; the school says it believes the change in the wording is an accidental oversight. The delayed enrollment rule has gone through several modifications spanning multiple decades.

"It's nobody's fault," MTSU associate athletic director for compliance Daryl Simpson said. "There were unintended consequences of forgetting that clause over time. We're just saying (to the NCAA), ‘Hey, you forgot this clause.'"

Will the NCAA see it that way, though? Depending on its interpretation of the matter, a waiver might be completely off the table for Rhodes, a scenario Infante explains in detail. It's a muddy issue at this point, but one thing is certain -- the NCAA is going to once again take it on the chin from a public relations perspective.

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