NCAA Allowing Marine To Play At MTSU Immediately - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NCAA Allowing Marine To Play At MTSU Immediately

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This Aug. 16, 2013 photo shows former Marine and walk-on freshman NCAA college football player Steven Rhodes in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (AP Photo) This Aug. 16, 2013 photo shows former Marine and walk-on freshman NCAA college football player Steven Rhodes in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (AP Photo)
This July 12, 2013 photo provided by Middle Tennessee State University shows NCAA college football player Steven Rhodes, a defensive end, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (AP Photo) This July 12, 2013 photo provided by Middle Tennessee State University shows NCAA college football player Steven Rhodes, a defensive end, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (AP Photo)
This Monday, Aug. 19, 2013 photo provided by Middle Tennessee State University shows NCAA college football player Steven Rhodes, a defensive end, during an interview in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (AP Photo) This Monday, Aug. 19, 2013 photo provided by Middle Tennessee State University shows NCAA college football player Steven Rhodes, a defensive end, during an interview in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (AP Photo)

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) - The NCAA has determined a freshman attempting to play college football after serving five years in the Marines can play with the MTSU team starting immediately.

Steven Rhodes played in a recreational league during his military service that made him ineligible. 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.

"As a part of its continued review of Steven Rhodes' eligibility, NCAA staff determined he may play immediately. Additionally, he will maintain all four years of his eligibility," said Kevin Lennon, NCAA Vice President of Academic and Membership Affairs.

"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," added Lennon.

Middle Tennessee Athletic Director Chris Massaro said the attention surrounding Rhodes' case made him more optimistic about the situation.

"I think public pressure obviously has been pretty enormous on the NCAA on this one," Massaro said.

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a Republican whose district includes Murfreesboro, Monday sent a letter to NCAA President Tom Emmert in support of Rhodes.

"Mr. Rhodes has given the sacrifice of service to his country, displaying not only leadership but all of the qualities that the NCAA wants its student-athletes to emulate and represent," DesJarlais wrote. "Mr. Rhodes is seeking to be a 'walk-on' athlete, paying for his own education and working to enhance his life both academically as well as athletically. Instead of celebrating and encouraging this endeavor, the NCAA is using an obtuse interpretation of its own bylaws on an issue in which I believe this outcome was never intended to address. And while the NCAA does not necessarily owe Mr. Rhodes the opportunity to play collegiate football, his compelling story should be an inspiration and an admirable example for all of its student-athletes."

Rhodes' case was first reported by The (Murfreesboro) Daily News Journal.

By NCAA standards, Rhodes' play at the Marine base counted as "organized competition" because there were game officials, team uniforms and the score was kept.

But the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Marine sergeant said the recreational league was nothing close to organized.

"Man, it was like intramurals for us," the 24-year-old told The Daily News Journal. "There were guys out there anywhere from 18 to 40-something years old. The games were spread out. We once went six weeks between games."

The rule first took shape in 1980, when "participation in organized competition during times spent in the armed services, on official church missions or with recognized foreign aid services of the U.S. government" were exempt from limiting eligibility.

But through several revisions and branches of the rule, the clause allowing competition during military service was lost and not carried over into the current bylaws.

"We believe it just got kind of edited out without any real reason that we could find," Massaro said. "That's what we basically presented to (the NCAA). I think they're taking a look at that."

Daryl Simpson, MTSU's assistant athletic director/compliance, said he doesn't believe the NCAA ever intended to penalize military service members.

"All this is strictly because of how the bylaw is worded," Simpson told The Daily News Journal. "In my opinion, there is no intent of anyone to not allow protection to our U.S. service members."

The Blue Raiders open the season Aug. 29 by hosting Western Carolina.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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